Telling Notre Dame’s story

Paul J. Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications, was born to Irish immigrant parents and grew up in the Bronx, the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City.

He’s a dedicated Yankees fan (“I grew up about a mile from Yankee Stadium, and at one time I thought they just automatically went to the World Series,” he says) and graduated from Marist College, “another place built in the woods on a river by a French teaching order,” he notes. He also holds a master’s in journalism from Columbia University.

As an undergraduate, Browne studied for a year in Bogota, Colombia, and after graduation served as a lay volunteer teacher at the Marist Brothers High School in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Early in his career, as a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York and later as Albany bureau chief for the New York Daily News, “I would have predicted I would spend my entire career in journalism—it felt like a calling,” he says.

But he was unexpectedly approached by Tim Russert, then chief of staff and special counsel to U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to serve as an aide to the senator. Telling Notre Dame’s story Russert, journalist, lawyer and later senior vice president at NBC News, was at the time leaving to take a job as counsel to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

“Moynihan (recipient of the University’s Laetare Medal in 1992) was someone I’d admired since I was a kid. To be offered the chance to operate in his world of politics and world affairs was too exciting to turn down.” Browne eventually became Moynihan’s chief of staff and press secretary.

During the course of his career, Browne worked in similar posts at the U.S. Treasury Department, the New York State Court of Appeals, the New York Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, and as vice president for advancement at his alma mater.

Browne also served as deputy director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti, with a United Nations mandate to end human rights abuses there and to establish an interim police force during the U.S.-led “Operation Restore Democracy” in 1994-95. For his Haiti service, Browne was awarded the Commander’s Medal for Public Service by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Gen. John Shalikashvili.

He served two stints with the New York City Police Department, A plaque from Browne’s office was recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11. The framed plaque now hangs in his office in the Main Building. PHOTOS: MATT CASHORE most recently beginning in 2004 as deputy commissioner of public information under New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Browne joined the University in August 2013.

Notre Dame does have some things in common with the NYPD, says Browne. “Both are mission-oriented and world renowned.”

He and his wife, Sarah, have an adult daughter, Lacey, who lives in New York, and they live with a 20-year-old cat “Still a good mouser,” he says.

About his career path, he notes, it didn’t turn out as he had planned. “I’ve talked to college students who look at a career and think it was plotted. In my case — in most people’s case — it’s not. It’s not being afraid to take opportunities as they arise. You can get comfortable by virtue of geography, or having been in one job for a while. For me, just being open to new opportunities as they come has been the most rewarding.”

He’s been lucky enough to be associated with institutions or individuals or both that had a sense of mission, he says. “That was the case with journalism generally, with Pat Moynihan and with (New York Police Commissioner) Ray Kelly, and now with Father Jenkins and Notre Dame.”

In his office in the Main Building, Browne has a framed piece of battered metal. It’s a plaque he received when he worked for the U.S. Treasury Department — it hung on the wall of his Customs Service office at the World Trade Center.

Browne likes to say that his wife saved his life twice — once by marrying him, and again when she persuaded him to change the date of a meeting to join her in Washington, D.C., so on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, he was with her in Washington rather than at his desk in 6 World Trade Center.

Arriving in New York after the 9/11 attacks, he discovered his building was gone. The north tower collapsed into No. 6 as it fell. He joined the rescuers working at the site. “It was after midnight and on the top of the rubble, I recognized material from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center and realized that we had just scratched the surface. We knew we wouldn’t find anyone alive.

“For weeks after, I volunteered at Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill, where tons of debris were taken, to look for human remains. Recovering remains was very meaningful to the family members — to know their loved ones had been identified.”

Months later, after he took the job with the NYPD, a friend from U.S. Customs Service office called him, and they met in Chinatown for lunch. “He had found the plaque in the debris of the World Trade Center, and managed to decipher my name and return it to me.”

As for many New Yorkers, even for those who aren’t alumni, Notre Dame looms large, he says.

“No other university has the pull. Notre Dame is singular — an academic powerhouse, steeped in faith with a storied athletic program. There’s no place quite like it, and it

This story was originally published in NDWorks.