So great is the loss of Steve Browning to our state and its communities, the flags should be lowered to half-staff and a moment of silence observed across Montana. Browning died May 15, 2018, after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis. The legacy he created for Montana, however, will never die.
While Browning will be remembered for many things — a brilliant law career, his work in Washington, D.C., and, of course, his love of golf — I will remember him most fondly for his passion and work in philanthropy.
A common focus of Browning's was permanence and community. He championed the idea of not just supporting charitable organizations in the here and now, but supporting them forever. Browning's foresight and understanding of the importance of permanence were the impetuses that led to the Governor’s Task Force on Endowed Philanthropy, a group that ultimately recommended the creation of the Montana Charitable Endowment Tax Credit.
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Perhaps better than anyone else, Browning understood that while nonprofit organizations need regular donations each year to support their work, having a permanent, reliable source of income is essential to their long-term success. He also understood those permanent endowments needed a home where they could be invested and grow and ultimately be distributed year after year to benefit the critical work of nonprofits across Montana. Finally, he understood the power of offering an incentive for people to give to these types of funds.
Browning created and funded permanent endowments for the Myrna Loy Center, the American Indian Institute and others. He was one of a handful of people integral in the creation of the Montana Community Foundation (MCF), an organization I consider myself lucky to serve on as board chair.
Celebrating 30 years of serving Montana, MCF has become that home for permanent charitable endowments for hundreds of nonprofits across the state. It was also the organization behind helping create many of the 75 local community foundations found in towns across Montana, like the Helena Area Community Foundation, another Steve Browning success and another organization that will forever benefit from an endowment he created and funded.
I am deeply saddened by the loss of Steve Browning. He was a kind and caring man, a man with a heart I can’t imagine could be filled with any more good than it was. What I am so thankful for, and what we should all be so thankful for, is that while Browning may be gone, the remarkable legacy he created through his work in endowed philanthropy on behalf of Montana will last forever. Thank you, Steve, and Godspeed.
Dale Woolhiser of Missoula, Montana Community Foundation board chair, is a Montana native. Woolhiser is a founding board member and past president of the Missoula Community Foundation.