June 25, 2004

Colleagues remember Philip J. Browning

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Philip J. Browning, M.D.

Colleagues remember Philip J. Browning

Vanderbilt colleagues remembered Philip Juan Browning, M.D., this week as a man of science, a man of faith, and a man who always pushed himself and others to make the world a better place.

Dr. Browning, an internationally known physician-scientist in the area of virus-related cancers, died Tuesday at his Brentwood home after a lengthy battle with colon cancer. He was 51.

Lewis-Wright Funeral Home is handling arrangements. Visitation will be 6-8 p.m., Friday, June 25, and the funeral will be at 11 a.m., Saturday, June 26, both at Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church, 5891 Nolensville Road.

Harold L. Moses, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, remembered Dr. Browning as an important contributor to the cancer center’s success from his days as one of its first faculty recruits in 1994 to his most recent role as associate director for Diversity and Minority Clinical Affairs.

“Philip was truly loved by his colleagues and especially by the post-docs and students he worked with, not only in his own lab but throughout the cancer center,” Moses said. “Philip constantly challenged himself and those around him to do and to be better. His courage and his commitment will continue to inspire us. Vanderbilt and the cancer center are better places because of the time he shared with us.”

A graduate of Fisk University and Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. Browning was associate professor of Medicine (Hematology-Oncology), Cancer Biology and Cell & Developmental Biology.

“Philip has been more than a colleague, he’s been a true friend,” said David H. Johnson, M.D., Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor of Oncology and director of the Hematology-Oncology division. “He was someone who truly relished life and was the kind of person you want to be, or you want your son to be. He truly was a remarkable individual.”

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, said that Dr. Browning was “one person in the cancer center who always made you smile, whether we were talking about science or about family.”

“We were among the first cancer center recruits and had labs right next to each other,” she recalled. “He was an outstanding scientist. Over the years, we developed a wonderful friendship.”

A member of Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church and leader of its health ministry, Dr. Browning spoke often about his strong faith in God and the role he believed faith plays in healing.

After his diagnosis with colon cancer four years ago, he saw his own experience as an opportunity to reach out to others. “Life is a temporary assignment, and we only have a little bit of time to make a difference,” he said.

A native of East Chicago, Ind., Dr. Browning was one of six children. In an interview earlier this year, Dr. Browning said that as child, he never considered becoming a doctor. Instead, he wanted to be a “revolutionary,” and, despite a natural affinity for math and science, dropped out of Fisk at age 19 to join a commune.

Ultimately, however, he decided to return to Fisk to study pre-med because he believed he could help people more as a physician and as a scientist. “I decided that maybe I could be educated after all and still be the man I wanted to be,” he said.

Dr. Browning completed an internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the National Cancer Institute.

He became interested in the HIV-related cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma while working in the National Institutes of Health laboratory of virologist Robert Gallo, M.D. At Vanderbilt, his work focused on how the Kaposi’s sarcoma herpes virus regulates gene transcription.

A member of Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Dr. Browning received the 1980 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Merit Award, the 1983 National Research Service Award, and the 1984 Robert Wood Johnson Minority Medical Faculty Development Award.

In addition to his wife of 24 years, Renee Upchurch-Browning, who is a member of the VICC Clinical Trials Office, Dr. Browning is survived by two sons, Philip Juan Browning II and Andrew Gerri Browning.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Philip J. Browning M.D. Minority Medical/Cancer Research Fund, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, VU Gift Processing, VU Station B 357727, Nashville, TN 37235-7727.