March 11, 1948 – April 11, 2020
Robby Browne ’71 was a hugely successful real-estate broker, a generous philanthropist, and a steadfast friend to many. But above all, he was the consummate host.
There were the parties on his 800-square-foot terrace in Manhattan for all occasions, most notably the Halloween bash where he dressed up as a Braniff Airways stewardess and pushed a vintage drink cart through the crowd. There was the charitable event that he ran for more than 30 years, the Toys Party, which started in his living room and evolved into an annual gathering of 2,500 people that raised millions of dollars for SAGE, an organization that helps older LGBT people. And then there were the mornings when he would spot tourists squinting at a map on the sidewalk in front of his building and invite them upstairs to take in the view of Central Park.
“He loved getting to know people,” says Chris Kann, who was his business partner at the Corcoran Group. “He had friends from every walk of life. And anyone who got to know him loved him.” Those tourists often became lifelong friends.
The Kentucky native took his first turn as a host as the social chair at Cap and Gown, where he threw some legendary events. The beach party with fake palm trees and piles of sand. The rented truck that took everyone to a local dairy at 4 a.m. to watch cows being milked. “He was wonderfully fun to be with, and he always wanted to introduce you to someone you didn’t know,” says Michael Harrity ’71.
After college, he worked for Cowen-Ladd Tours, which took teenagers to Europe. He was so successful that the company made him a partner and changed its name to Browne-Ladd. After earning an MBA at Harvard Business School despite his mediocre undergraduate grades, he considered investment banking, then briefly attended medical school before going into real estate, which perfectly suited his personality. He landed celebrity clients, set a record in 2003 with the sale of the most expensive apartment in Manhattan history until that point, and was named Corcoran Broker of the Year, an award he accepted in a woman’s bathing suit while singing “YMCA.”
Despite his demanding career, “keeping up with friends was the most important thing in his life,” says Robbie Wyper Shell ’71. Browne’s eight-bedroom Bridgehampton, Long Island, house was filled with guests. The door to his New York City apartment was rarely locked. He paid for friends’ trips to New York City and covered tuition bills for some family members and low-income students. He supported many LGBT causes, especially GLAAD, which he served as a board member.
Browne died after a three-and-a-half-year battle with multiple myeloma and a diagnosis of COVID-19. Last year, a friend, Jeff Dupre, made a documentary about his life, and Browne held several gatherings to show the film. “He was able to have all of his friends come, and he sat there and watched it with them,” says Kann. “If anyone lived life to the fullest, it was him.”
Jennifer Altmann is a freelance writer and editor who formerly was associate editor at PAW.
Watch this tribute to Browne by The Cororan Group: