One thing we most certainly appreciate is a well-written, honest obituary. Lackluster sugar-coating is not to be tolerated when it comes to one’s last parting pronouncements of a life lived. An obit should read like a spicy page-turner of a memoir, not a mind-numbing resume destined to be wadded up, shit-canned and quickly forgotten. In that spirit, we present to you this wonderful gem of an obit we happened upon. Let it serve as the benchmark of bardship when penning for the recently departed. We knew you not, Mr. Brownley — but, we miss you nonetheless.
Raymond Alan Brownley of Pittsburgh (Ingram Boro), Pennsylvania, died on September 21, 2014, at the age of 82, but his larger-than-life persona and trademark stubbornness will not be forgotten.
He was born on December 30, 1931, in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest son of the late William Franklin Brownley (born on October 28, 1894, in Newtown, Virginia, and died October 1, 1977, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and Lucille Beverly Fauntleroy Brownley (born February 14, 1896, in King William, Virginia, and died October 8, 1956, in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania).
Affectionately known as Big Al by his family and many friends, he was a plumber by trade, a tremendous gardener and avid hunter. He also enjoyed fishing and proudly displayed the stuffed barracuda he caught back in 1965, much to the dismay of his wife, Agnes Bargo Brownley, to whom he was married to for 24 years.
He despised canned cranberry sauce, wearing shorts, cigarette butts in his driveway, oatmeal, loud-mouth know-it-alls, Tabasco sauce, reality TV shows, and anything to do with the Kardashians.
But Big Al had many loves, too. He loved his wife, Agnes Bargo Brownley, who preceded him in death in 1990. He also dearly loved his children and grandchildren. Famously opinionated and short-tempered, Big Al handed these qualities down to his daughter, Jill Ann Brownley of Phoenix, Arizona, a sharp-tongued character in her own right. Attending trade school to be a plumber instead of going to college, Big Al’s strong work ethic and keen sense of wisely saving and investing his money live on with his son, Jeffrey Allen Brownley (Jill Shafranek Brownley), of New York. He took extreme pride in his two adorable grandchildren Derek Brownley (5) and Alexis Brownley (3), who affectionately called him Grandpa Al. He also loved milk shakes, fried shrimp, the Steelers, the Playboy channel, Silky’s Gentlemens Club, taking afternoon naps in his recliner, hanging out at the VFW, playing poker, eating jelly beans by the handful, and his hunting dogs-his favorite being Holly Hill Rip Van Winkle, a loyal beagle that answered to the nickname of Rip.
Big Al was world-renowned for his lack of patience, not holding back his opinion, and a knack for telling it like it is. He was highly proficient at cursing. He liked four-letter words just about as much as four-wheel drive pick-up trucks. He was a connoisseur of banana cream pie and a firm believer that ham sandwiches should only be served on Mancini’s bread. He always told you the truth, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. He was generous to a fault, a pussy cat at heart, and yet he sugar-coated absolutely nothing. To quote Winston Churchill: “He was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
His fondness of spaghetti Westerns was only surpassed by his love of bacon, beer and butter pecan ice cream. He fondly reminisced about good friends, good drinks and good times at the Tri-Valley Sportsmens Club in Burgettstown. He was a long-time member of the Elks Club in McKees Rocks where he frequently bartended and generously donated his tips to charity. Quite a teller of tales, Big Al’s elaborate stories often were punctuated with the phrase, “And that’s when I kicked his ass.” He enjoyed outlaw country music: Waylon, Willie, Hank, Johnny. He was also on a first-name basis with the Four Horsemen of liquor: Jack, Jim, Johnnie and Jose.
Big Al had strong beliefs in which he never waivered: dog shit makes the best garden fertilizer; Heinz ketchup does not belong on a hotdog; and PennDOT should be embarrassed of the never-ending construction, detours and potholes on Route 28.
With his love for gardening and passion for hunting, Big Al was locally sourcing his food for decades long before it was the “in thing” to do. While a necessity in his youth growing up during the Depression, this passion for being self-sufficient was carried throughout his whole life. This Depression baby was ahead of his time with “being green,” as evidenced by the approximately 87 “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” containers stacked neatly in his kitchen cupboard. The biggest challenge was actually finding the butter in his refrigerator with 13 containers of leftovers that all looked the same.
Big Al was known for his timeless words of wisdom, including “Life is hard; but it’s harder if you’re stupid” and “Don’t be a jackass.” He had a life-long ménage a trois with his homemade chili and Gas-X. He had a great fondness for sardines on crackers, stuffed cabbage (which he lovingly called hunky hand grenades), making turtle soup, and eating BLTs. And his famous holiday eggnog had enough whiskey to grow hair on your chest.
Also known as the Squirrel Whisperer, he communicated with the local red-tailed squirrels and fed them peanuts out of his hand. He took pride in his time served in the Navy on the USS San Marcos during the Korean War, often waxing nostalgia that the worst meal he’d ever eaten was Shit on a Shingle (creamed chipped beef on toast). His mantra of a girl in every port often led to a fight in every port. With a stink eye towards organized religion, Big Al was more spiritual than religious and enjoyed reading the Bible before bed each night and watching “church on TV” every Sunday morning.
What he lacked in stature, he compensated with an over-abundance of charisma, charm and feistiness. Big Al took fashion advice from no one. With his trademark white, v-neck t-shirts and strategically coiffed comb-over, his comfort far outweighed any interest in the latest fashion trends. He was well-stocked with white shoe polish to keep his tennis shoes looking pristine for prime rib dinners at Longhorn Steakhouse.
In the last few years, Big Al’s short-term memory loss was getting the best of him. On December 29, 2012-the day before his 81st birthday-he had a stroke that was a turning point in the decline of his health. His devout feistiness and stubbornness had served him well throughout his life. And even in his waning months, he was a model of strong will and sheer determination right up until the end of his journey here on earth. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered by many friends, neighbors, nieces, nephews, and bun heads.
Also preceding Big Al in death were his older siblings: William Franklin Brownley Jr., Robert Fauntleroy Brownley, Richard Leonard Brownley, Virginia Lee Brownley Barnes, and Louise Beverly Brownley Kindle.
Tremendous heartfelt thanks go to Stacey Schaeffer and Barb Casey, truly compassionate and exceptional hospice nurses at ViaQuest Hospice, as well as Laniece Butler, who provided much more than just comfort for Big Al, but also provided a sense of humor, peace and tranquility during his transition from this life into the next. Many thanks also to the wonderful staff at Asbury Heights Nursing Home in Mt. Lebanon.
Visitation 6-8 p.m. Thursday, 1-3 and 6-8 p.m. Friday at the Schepner-Mcdermott Funeral Home, Inc., 165 Noble Ave., Crafton, where the Funeral Service will be held 10 a.m. Saturday with interment to follow, with full military honors, in Mount Calvary Cemetery, McKees Rocks. In lieu of the traditional Irish Wake, Family and friends are cordially invited to Downey’s House Restaurant, 6080 Steubenville Pike, Robinson Twp., PA 15136, for a Celebration of Life Luncheon at Noon for a mandatory shot and a beer, in a final toast in Big Al’s honor, the greatest Dad in the world.