Two weeks ago, after the ascent to Mt. Mitchell, the Day 18 Running Blog featured thoughts about the skills of R. Getty Browning. There is little doubt that he was the most important framer of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. He hiked the entire route, made two pivotal presentations to the United States Department of Interior's Radcliffe Committee in 1934 (which recommended the road's path), lobbied numerous officials, and was coordinated final routing decisions while the road was being built.
Little did I know that Mrs. Harriet Davant, one of Blowing Rock's most prominent citizens, is Getty Browning's daughter. Rhonda and I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Davant in her home Thursday, June 16, 2016. What I learned was not what I expected, it was better than I expected.
Having read much about Getty Browning's roles in building the Blue Ridge Parkway, I asked Mrs. Davant about her memories of his career: what he did and how he did it. I learned a few things about Mr. Browning's career and life:
- - He was respected in his hometown of Deer Park, MD (rural, western, hilly Maryland, closer to Morganton, WV, than any Maryland city).
- - He worked in Baltimore before moving to Raleigh in 1921 to work for what would become the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
- - "He could get along with anyone.", which is evidenced in accounts of Mr. Browning's interactions with almost everyone associated with building the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- - He hiked the region that would be come the Blue Ridge Parkway route by following deer paths through the mountains.
- - Mrs. Davant remembered she and her mother taking Mr. Browning to the train station for trips to Washington, DC, meeting about the Parkway project.
- - She remembered President Franklin Roosevelt travelling to Western North Carolina. (As best I can determine, this would have been a trip in 1936 for the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when the President traveled from Knoxville to Asheville as he visited the new national park.)
Mrs. Davant showed us a special family heirloom, Mr. Browning's altimeter. It was the size of a pocket watch. The altimeter is attached to a leather pouch which he signed in ink. The altimeter is a beautiful, museum-worthy item. It was easy to imagine him hiking the Parkway route checking the altimeter for elevation as he sought the most drive-able route.
"He was my hero."
It was evident that Mrs. Davant was proud of her father's accomplishments and how much he did for North Carolina roads and the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, it was quickly clear that Mrs. Davant's best memories were of a loving, caring father.
She remembered her father reading bedtime stories from Twinkly Eyes, an illustrated 1919 children's book about a little black bear. She said that Mr. Browning would add his own words of advice in the midst of the written text, such as, "And if you ever find yourself between a mother bear and her cubs, leave quickly because the mother bear will become angry."
Mrs. Davant remembered how much her father loved her three older brothers and Mrs. Browning. She recounted stories from home life that illustrated what a kind, caring man he was.
When asked to describe her father in a few words, here are the words she said:
- - "Honest"
- - "Got along with everybody"
- - "Friendly"
- - "Charming"
- - "Devoted husband"
- - "Loving father"
Mrs. Davant beamed with enthusiasm when talking about her dad. She spoke with glowing words and the unabashed admiration. In retrospect, I already knew what I needed to know about Getty Browning's professional career before meeting with Mrs. Davant. What I needed to know was that he was a great family man as well. What greater thing could I have learned?
Writing this blog on Father's Day is fitting. So many of us struggle to balance work and family. Ninety-three years from now, what would be more important to you? To have a mountaintop named in your honor with a plaque on the Parkway (see photos below from Milepost 351.2, Waterrock Knob)? Or to be remembered by your daughter with such love?
Text on the plaque:
Named in honor of R. Getty Browning, 1884-1966. Location and Claims Engineer and Parkway Consultant for North Carolina State Highway Commission, 1925-1964.
His forceful presentation of the high quality scenery found in North Carolina secured the location through Western North Carolina and the Cherokee Indian lands to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
With consideration and courtesy for those involved, he worked untiringly to secure the rights-of-way for this spectacular mountain Parkway. During the construction of the Parkway he ably represented North Carolina in its dealings with the National Park Service.
'His love of the mountains was surpassed only by his love of people.'"
Mr. Browning's Passing
Mr. Browning passed away January 29, 1966, in Blowing Rock, NC; however, "the rest of the story" is priceless...
Mrs. Browning had a stroke in the early 1960s and became the first resident at the Blowing Rock Nursing home just a few blocks from the Davant home. On a cold, snowy morning (6.1" of snow and a low temperature of -15F in Blowing Rock according to National Centers for Environmental Information archives), the Davants awoke early to a knock on their bedroom door. It was Mr. Browning with severe chest pain. Dr. Charley Davant (a doctor in Blowing Rock since 1948) gave him a shot for pain and placed him in the Davant's bed. Dr. Davant said, " I don't know if we can get an ambulance to the house because of the snowstorm. Stay with him here while I see what I can do." Getty Browning passed away shortly afterwards in Mrs. Davant's arms.
Mrs. Davant said, "I was angry at God about my father being taken away from me." She was looking forward to having her father close to her for a while, since her older brothers lived elsewhere. She said, "But months later walking the beach at Hilton Head, I thought... 'What more could I have wanted for my father? He had a great career. He was loved by so many. And he passed from this life with little suffering. That's as good as it can be. All that anger left me that day walking on the beach."