It is with deep regret that we announce the death of our great friend, the President of Rush Dramatic Society, Bob Browne. Originally from Portumna in Co Galway, a welder and metal worker by trade, Bob worked in Dublin in the 1960s, where he found himself employed on the site of the new Abbey Theatre. As fate would have it, he auditioned for the Abbey School of Acting while on site and was accepted. He spent five years at the Abbey working under the guiding hand of his mentor, Tomás MacAnna. Returning to his trade, Bob married Cathy and they settled in North County Dublin, moving to Rush in the late 1970s. His first acquaintance was with Andy Monks, who, having heard of Bob’s theatrical background, wasted no time in recruiting him into the ranks of Rush Dramatic Society. He was to be the find of a lifetime. Dedicated to the Society and later to the Millbank Theatre, Bob’s quiet influence was found in all of our endeavours at Chapel Green.
Quickly establishing himself in the front line of the acting pool, he joined the group on its travels throughout Ireland on the annual festival circuit. The highlight of that time was to be the All Ireland win in 1982 with Hugh Leonard’s Da, in which Bob played the caustic and judgemental Mr Drumm, opposite the simple ordinariness of Peadar Clerkin’s Da. The play would be revived many times over the years, lastly in 2007. In the almost 100 performances that we produced over a 25 year period, Bob always played Drumm and Peadar always played Da. Their on-stage partnership was reprised in many other plays, including notably in Brian Friel’s Translations and Philadelphia, Here I Come! In Translations, Bob played Hugh, the commanding hedge-school master, with Peadar playing Jimmy Jack, the simple prodigy. In Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Bob played Canon Mick O’Byrne, the simple and easy-going parish priest, opposite Peadar’s remote and lonely SB O’Donnell. The levels to which they took those plays and many others, too numerous to mention, were rarely seen in amateur theatre and the Millbank audiences were fortunate to have had such talent in our midst.
Always in the thick of the action, Bob was ever-present when a set was being constructed. In the early days of the Millbank Theatre, along with his erstwhile friend and collaborator, Eamon Keegan, they constructed elaborate sets of an intricate nature that others would shy away from. As volunteers would show up to “lend a hand”, Bob would allocate simple tasks and then “make good” when the volunteers had left, just so they could feel like they had contributed. A man of abundant generosity, he gave of his time without question. His skill as an actor was matched by his constant activity in keeping the show on the road. In 2006, he acted in Noises Off, playing the absent-minded Selsdon to great comic effect. But he also constructed a remarkable revolving set, the mark of which is still imprinted on the stage floor!
Off stage, Bob loved company and many of his favourite moments occurred backstage, where the craic was to be had. He enjoyed nothing more than making others laugh and he was often the butt of his own jokes and stories. He had a fine tenor voice, which was much in demand at social occasions and the Galway Shawl was always a firm favourite.
His last appearance on stage was in Philadelphia, Here I Come! in 2010. Although many urged him to reconsider his retirement, he knew himself that failing eyesight meant that his time on the boards had come to an end. But he remained a constant presence in the theatre. Loved by members of all generations, even those who joined after his acting career had finished. Adored by Patrons, who treasure the many wonderful theatrical memories he created. He will be sadly missed by everybody at the Millbank Theatre.
We extend our deepest sympathies to Cathy, Bobby, Cara, Nigel and all the family.
Bravo, Bob, Bravo.