Geraldine Browning has a simple philosophy – embrace each moment with humour and faith, and teach young people to respect one another.
On May 12, the Gibson Woods resident will receive a Doctor of Humanities from Acadia University. Known as a people and community builder, Browning has spent the better part of her life encouraging others as a teacher, nurse or community advocate, but perhaps more importantly, as a mother of nine children. She also has 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Browning says she learned valuable lessons from her own mother, even though growing up in a family of 16 children in East Preston was difficult. Times were tough. While there may not have been a lot of money, she says there was certainly lots of love.
“Love conquers all,” Browning says, “and you have to love what you’re doing. I love being a mother, even though I’ve had my days. But with God in your life, love can conquer anything. That has been my thing.”
She says that no matter what, her mother always found a way to distill challenges and find the positive. Browning taught her children to do the same: to get along; to have faith and good humour; and to reach out and expect nothing in return.
“Don’t complain and appreciate what you have. That’s the way I was taught. And what you do, you do from the heart – you don’t expect anything back.” Her mother, Browning says with emotion in her voice, “was special. She was special.”
Browning’s son Greg says that growing up, his mother stressed the importance of family, faith and respect for others. Everyone was encouraged to work hard, accept responsibility, offer unconditional love and never be afraid to fail. Church and community were highly valued, as was a willingness to help those who were less fortunate.
Getting an education was important, too. Browning, who never went to university, says she wanted to, “but there was never time and never money. So I told all my kids, ‘Stay in school until you’re 90!’”
That was advice most of her children took, Greg says. “Most of us have some level of post-secondary education, even though both she and my father never graduated high school.”
Currently the chair of the Valley African Nova Scotia Development Association, Browning has dedicated her life to improving the social and economic well being of those in her community and throughout Nova Scotia.
The news she would receive an honorary degree from Acadia came as a total shock, she says.
“When I grew up, it was difficult to get past Grade 8, so I was very emotional when Ray Ivany told me about this. I went toward him, leaned on him, and cried. It was something I couldn’t believe,” Browning said.
“Now some people are saying to me, ‘Oh, Doctor,’ but I’m not a doctor. I’m Geraldine. That’s who I am, and I’m sure there had to be a divine intervention for this to happen!” she says with a laugh. “I’ve tried to do what I can for people, do for others what you want people to do for you. That’s what my mother taught me.”
Humble as ever, she adds, “I’ve never done anything big. Just little things.”