Obituary: Norwich's 'marathon man' of snooker, dies aged 88
- Credit: Archant © 2007
One of Norwich’s most loved fundraisers - dubbed the "snooker marathon man” - has died at the age of 88.
Frank Browne, who was made an MBE, hung up his cue following his 70th birthday in 2003 but will be remembered fondly for his love of the sport.
From 12-hour marathons raising money for charity to playing with a former Bishop of Norwich, Mr Browne never strayed far from a snooker table after being gifted one for his 12th birthday.
Born Frank Charles Browne on June 24, 1933, on City Road, Norwich, he was diagnosed with the condition Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) - a genetic, progressive, neurodegenerative movement disorder resulting in symptoms such as impaired coordination and speech. As a result, he was unable to walk until the age of five and had a severe speech impediment, something he refused to let hold him back.
The sixth child of eight - three boys and five girls - he lived in Lakenham with his family. In 1939, they moved to Woodcock Road, Catton, and ran the fish and chip shop until 1959, before moving to Junction Road.
His father, Frank Browne senior, was a Labour councillor, a justice of the peace, and an alderman of the city, and was determined to keep his son in mainstream school. With his support, Mr Browne attended Catton Grove Primary School and Alderman Jex Secondary School. Here he made a lifelong friend, John Ward, and would later become friends with Mr Ward's wife Janet too.
After completing his education, Mr Browne worked for Norwich-based company, Remploy, which employed workers with disabilities. He remained there until his retirement.
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But it was on his 12th birthday that Mr Browne received a gift that would change his life forever.
His parents gifted him a snooker table which he kept in his bedroom and learned to play at home by competing with his father, brothers, and friends.
His niece, Wendy Callard, said it was a gift which “transformed his life”.
“He played and practised every day,” she added.
“It was something that really was his passion and he was quite obsessed with it, in fact. He really stuck with it as he wanted to get better and better at playing it.”
Mr Browne soon began competing in snooker matches and won many trophies. Eventually, he ran snooker marathons to raise money for charity, staging his first in 1981 where he raised more than £600.
He retired from the sport at the age of 70 due to failing eyesight, having raised more than £50,000 for charity. His final charity event was at Woodside Snooker Centre in Thorpe St Andrew. Many charities benefitted from his efforts, including disability, children, and animal organisations, and for this work he was awarded an MBE in 1993 by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Another important part of Mr Browne’s life was his faith.
He would regularly attend St Catherine’s Church, on Aylsham Road, singing in its choir. He made many very good friends at the church, including his future wife who he married there during the 1960s, and hosted a bible study group and delivered the church magazine for many years. Sheila died during the early 1990s.
Other friends he met through the church included Bridget Garner and her husband Brian. Together, they would often visit Cromer where they enjoyed ice cream and fish and chips.
As a child, he was a member of the boys’ brigade and scouts and enjoyed holidays in chalets at Sea Palling and Hemsby.
Throughout his life, his hobbies included listening to music, singing, supporting Norwich City Football Club, watching cricket, and swimming. He also enjoyed photography, watching films and television, and animals, especially his pets including his dog Joey, cats, mice, and guinea pigs.
He also enjoyed riding his specially adapted trike, a vehicle that he once cycled all the way to Coventry. In 2003, his trike was recovered after being stolen, following a campaign in the Norwich Evening News.
In later life, he enjoyed visits from his niece, Beverley Balls, with her mother and his sister, Evelyn Rose 'Rosie' Goodswen, who died earlier this month, aged 90. His other sister, Barbara Howe, and brother-in-law Cliff, parents of Mrs Callard, phoned him every week. Mrs Howe remains the last surviving Browne sibling. Finally, his nephew through marriage, John White, would also visit and help him.
Mrs Callard said: “He was a very proud man who had to overcome such tremendous barriers relating to his disability.
“Because of his FRDA, he had a very severe speech impediment – it was a really pronounced stammer – but he always had a lot to say and had a lot of interests.
“He would always take pride in himself and would dedicate himself to his interests. He was sociable and always wanted to help.
“We are immensely proud of him. He was a role model.
“He was a proud and much-loved brother and uncle, and dear friend to many.”
Mr Browne died at Downham Grange Care Home on December 8, after being diagnosed with dementia. His funeral will take place at St Catherine’s Church on January 12, followed by committal at Earlham Crematorium. Donations will be raised in his memory to the charity Afasic, an organisation that helps children and young people with speech and language impairments. For more information contact the East of England Co-op Funeral Services on Aylsham Road on 01603 857681.