Cindy Browne, 56, who studied change, helped make some
Cindy Browne, a 25-year executive of Twin Cities Public Television who remade herself as a change agent and then managed the merger of three competitive stations, creating Iowa Public Radio, died Nov. 10  at the age of 56. She had battled fought cancer several times in recent years.
“She fought it back valiantly in early spring and summer of 2007,” says Todd Mundt, who was then working with Browne as her program chief for the newly merged Iowa network. When cancer returned this year, Browne continued work while undergoing chemotherapy, but she had to retire in June.
By then the Iowa stations were well along, or done, with most of the steps Browne had charted for the merger process, Mundt said.
Positive results of the merger were appearing, but even without big layoffs the transition had been as difficult and disruptive for IPR’s listeners and staffers — as Browne had expected (Current, Sept. 22, 2008).
“Cindy was just an unbelievably good choice for that position,” said Joan Kjaer, IPR deputy director, in an August interview. “She understood this would take a lot of determination. . . . She was just very methodical, very decent, not apologetic about where we were headed.”
Browne had come to the Twin Cities’ KTCA in 1973 as a receptionist, part-time camera operator and air control operator, and rose through the programming ranks to general manager.
“Cindy saw leadership not as the top of the mountain, but as one point in a circle,” said TPT production executive Bill Hanley in a statement from former colleagues about Browne. “She accepted both victories and defeats with equal grace and humility.”
Browne had two defeats in quick succession, first with her bid to succeed her boss, Jack Willis, as president of the station where she had worked for two decades — KTCA, now known as TPT — and then with the early ending of a big job in Washington.
CPB recruited her in 1998 to be an executive v.p., over TV programming and other areas, serving alongside Fred DeMarco, who supervised the rest of the company.
When Browne arrived at CPB, “it was a breath of—calm air” and well-considered decision-making, recalls Louis Barbash, then a program officer at CPB. But CPB President Bob Coonrod took away her major responsibilities after a year and a half and Browne resigned. “I was absolutely baffled,” Barbash says.
“She felt she was not well treated at CPB,” says Jim Russell, who had worked with her at KTCA. “But she was not a complainer.”
Browne’s attitude, according to producer Niki Vettel, was, “That didn’t work out. What’s next?”
Next was a consulting business for stations. Browne was fascinated with techniques for facilitating and directing organizational change, reading up on change management, and writing articles on the subject for Current. “She was taking courses and going to seminars. She really modeled that for a lot of people,” says Vettel. “When Cindy got into something, it was almost like a ferociousness.”
Browne had seen a recurring set of problems in public TV, which she had hoped to address at CPB and then through her work in change management, according to Russell.
The perfect job arose in the Iowa radio stations’ merger, where change was inevitable but positive results were uncertain. Browne got the job in 2005, though she had never worked in radio.
“Cindy was the most courageous person I ever knew; throughout her life, she confronted change in her career, in her health, some of it unwelcome, and yet she was a fount of optimism,” Mundt wrote in his blog on the day she died. Browne “maintained a laser-like focus on what she needed to do.”
To stay alive, she read up and plotted a course of alternative as well as traditional treatments.
“She really was a wonderful example to us in her humility, her confidence — to have a lot of patience and to forgive us all our foibles,” says Vettel, who was one of a handful of women who became friends over two decades of work in public TV and took a sometimes-giddy weekend adventure every year.
Survivors include her husband, Twin Cities building contractor David Bossard; her mother, Patricia Browne; two brothers and a sister, Rick, Greg and Katy; and seven nieces and nephews.
Web page posted Nov. 25, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC