First female mayor of Port Lavaca is slight of stature, but big-hearted
by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Sept. 7, 2011 at 4:07 a.m.
Updated Sept. 13, 2011 at 4:13 a.m.
PORT LAVACA - At less than 5 feet tall, Tiney Browning is still a force to be reckoned with.
During her 10 years as the first female mayor of Port Lavaca, the petite, blue-eyed woman helped reshape the image of her town, collecting a pile of accolades along the way.
That was a far cry from the little girl who was always the smallest and scrappiest one in her class.
Browning was born in Port Lavaca in 1927. The youngest of the family, she was so small when she was born, the delivery doctor declared she was the tiniest baby he had ever seen.
That was what everybody said when they laid eyes on the newborn, and before she had taken her first steps, her given name, Ida Mae, was a mere formality. She was known as Tiney.
Browning knew Port Lavaca when the town was in its heyday. Her parents farmed and ranched on some property just outside of town and lived in a house at the end of long dirt road. She rode a horse up the lane every morning to catch her bus to school, her father riding along with her when the weather turned cold and the days grew short.
On the weekends, the family went into town and the children went to the movie theater and ate at hamburger stands while their parents shopped and did their errands.
The town was different then, a lively place.
"I thought it was the most wonderful place in the world. I loved it; I loved living on the water," she said.
She spent hours fishing off the overpass with her mother, gazing out at the glittering bays and taking in the beauty of the coast.
As a teenager, Browning decided she wanted to become either a secretary or a bookkeeper. She took shorthand classes and got a job with a gruff old lawyer when she graduated from high school. Everyone told her it would be a tough job, but the two got along. She learned everything she could from her boss, a former Yale professor, only changing jobs when he died of a heart attack. She became one of the best administrative assistants around, but never expected to do much more than that.
Then, when Browning was in her late 20s, her mother became ill. Diagnosed with heart disease, the doctors said there wasn't much time. Browning quit her job to care for her mother, spending every moment she could with her. The two were close, and when her mother died, it was a difficult time.
"It was a hard time for me," Browning said, looking down at her hands.
Browning lived her life as a working girl, going on dates and attending dances, but she never seemed to meet the right man.
"I dated, but I didn't feel anything for anybody. My aunt would say, 'Tiney had better hurry up or she's going to be an old maid,' but my mother would say, 'Oh, Tiney will find someone. I may not be around when she does, but I know she'll find the right one," Browning said.
But it seemed like the right man would never come along. Then one Sunday night, Browning and her friend went to a dance.
B.B. Browning had arrived in town just three days before to start a new job. He saw her from across the room and asked her to dance. When he asked for her phone number, she laughed and told him it was in the phonebook. He looked her up and was calling the next day to ask for a date. That was the beginning, and within a few months the pair were married.
"I had a feeling for him I'd never had for anyone. That was what a friend told me, that when I met the right one I'd know, because I'd want to spend the rest of my life with him. We've been married for 47 wonderful years, now," she said, beaming.
After that, Browning was embroiled in family life, taking care of her relatives and caring for her own young family. She was interested in everything, and friendly with everyone, but she never thought of going into government.
Called to serve
Then in 1979, a neighbor on the city council said she was so involved in town life, she ought to run for the council.
She won - the first female ever elected to the Port Lavaca City Council.
Browning was a little nervous when she went to her first city council meeting.
"I didn't know how they'd react, but one of the councilmen was having everybody over to watch football after a meeting, and they invited me along. I was one of the boys," she said.
That was the beginning of more than 20 years of involvement in city government. Browning served as mayor pro tem for six years before she finally decided to run for the head job of mayor.
Her natural friendliness was her best asset in the political arena.
"I've never met a stranger. I just love talking to people and meeting people, and that helped me," Browning said.
Sure enough, people felt they could talk to her; they seemed comfortable going to her with their problems.
But anyone who thought her smiling open-faced outlook on life and slight stature were weaknesses quickly learned they were mistaken.
She served as the town mayor for a decade, getting to know everyone from Ann Richards to George W. Bush.
There are stacks of awards and piles of pictures, but it's the things she did for Port Lavaca that fill Browning with pride.
She lobbied hard to get the grants to shore up the eroding coastal peninsula in Port Lavaca with cement steps that helped create access to the water. Her lobbying got the fishing pier built as well. Lighthouse Beach was another project of hers to bring tourists back to Port Lavaca's coast.
"Whenever I drive by and see all of it, I do feel a little proud of having helped make it happen," she said.
After 10 years in office, Browning was defeated in 2000, and she decided to retire and focus on helping to raise her grandchildren.
But she hasn't changed much, throwing herself into a myriad of activities and always keeping a sharp eye out for ways to help people. It's her relationships with family and friends who are most important to her.
"I have a lot of people I care about and who care for me. That's what it's all about," she said.