William Joseph Browne had the ability to record the events of everyday life. He did this in his diary and in letters to his family. What makes this ordinary talent so extraordinary is that Bill Browne wrote throughout most of his very long lifetime. While his writings tell the story of his life in a particular time and place, they also show the development of an individual changing and maturing.
Bill (at times Billy, William, Will, Willie, W. J.) Browne was born in 1897 and lived a fascinating life as lawyer, judge and politician until his death in 1989. While he was a proud Newfoundlander, he also enjoyed the years he lived in Ottawa as a Federal Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister.
But whatever his accomplishments may have been, it was always his family life that interested those who knew him - his four marriages fascinated most people. He was, in the words of my Aunt Audrey, "the marrying kind".
Even before Bill's death, his family realized that the letters and diaries he had written over the years were a treasure. More than ten years later we continue in this belief and have decided to share these diaries and letters with those who may be interested. When a few of his 1948 letters were published in the St. John's Telegram in the summer of 1999, we were delighted with the response they elicited from so many people, Newfoundlanders and non-Newfoundlanders alike.
What then is this material? It's a selection of letters written by Bill Browne to his mother, his wives and his children as well as some of his diary entries. While Bill Browne only wrote in his diary sporadically, we have letters from every period of his life. We believe that the letters and diaries blend well, that they tell the story of one man's interesting life, that time will prove them to be of considerable historical value and that they make for great reading.
We have chosen to publish his writings on the Internet for several reasons. First, it provides ready access for the largest possible number of people. With Internet access in so many public libraries and the use of the Internet in so many homes today, we think these writings will be accessible to anyone who wants to read them. This format further allows us to use much more of the material Bill Browne wrote rather than being limited by the space and financial constraints of commercial publishers. Rather than waiting for the final transcription of all the material, we have chosen to start with just the first two chapters and add the others in chronological order as they are prepared. We still plan a book and this is an opportunity to read a book in progress.
The transcription of handwritten material (as many letters and all the diaries are) is a labourious and sometimes imprecise undertaking. I have taken the greatest care with this but I am aware that some mistakes have likely occurred. Should you become aware of errors, I would be interested in knowing of them. Please e-mail this or any other response.
The sharing of these letters and diaries has truly been a co-operative effort. Bill Browne himself was well aware of the existence of his early writings and used them extensively in the preparation of his two volume autobiography (Eighty-Four Years a Newfoundlander and Eighty-Seven Years a Newfoundlander). He saved all correspondence and advised his children to do the same. On several occasions he wrote in his diary of the possibility of it being read by others.
Following Bill Browne's death his diaries were moved to the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador where they were catalogued and maintained until being loaned to London Public Library for my use. Thanks to Archives Director Shelley Smith, and to Howard Brown, Cal Best and staff. Beth Whitney and the staff at the Masonville Branch of the London Public Library have also been most gracious.
Bill Browne's widow, Norah Browne, and the children who survived him, Marjorie Leahey (my mother), Madeleine Murphy (who died in 1998), William Browne, S.J. and Peter Browne agreed to permit me to edit and publish his letters and diaries. Each one of them has been unfailingly helpful. Bill Browne's grandchildren and great-grandchildren have likewise assisted with this project. Shelagh Leahey has loaned her photographs and provided her enthusiasm. Great-grandchild Nick Snow has done considerable work in searching old newspapers on microfilm. Brenda Leahey Young and her husband Harry Young, who live in Newfoundland, have been of tremendous assistance. Brenda has been an important part of every aspect of this project and has given unstintingly of her time and expertise. All the computer work has been done by Bill Browne's great-grandchild Christopher Snow.
While Bill Browne's own writings will tell the story of his family, his family situation is confusing to people, so I will add just a few lines of clarification.
In 1924 Bill married Mary Harris and they had four children: Marjorie, Madeleine (who died in 1998), William and Peter. Mary Harris Browne died in 1930.
In 1933 Bill married Mary Roche and they had two children: Edward (who died in 1983) and Antonio (who died in 1936). Mary Roche Browne died in 1944.
In 1951 Bill married Mae (Buckley) Fleming. Mae had one child, Margot, (who died in 1989) from her earlier marriage to Alan Fleming. Mae (Buckley) Fleming Browne died in 1970.
In 1973 Bill married Norah (Elphinstone) Renouf.