Rita and Frank Browne died within days of each other from COVID-19. Photo courtesy the Browne family

A lifetime of love and giving back

  • July 2, 2021

At the start of the pandemic, retired surgeon Dr. Frank Browne got up at 5 a.m. ready to head into the hospital to tend to the sick. He had heard the call to retired doctors to assist as COVID-19 was taking its toll on the health-care system.

Teresa Browne-Dessailly looked at her very elderly father, who along with her mother Rita was living at home with assistance from his daughter and other caregivers, and said, “Dad, you’re 93, I’m certain they meant younger retirees.”

He said, “Yeah, I think I’ll go back to bed.”

It’s just one of many fond memories that gives Browne-Dessailly and her siblings a chuckle when they think of their mom and dad.

Like many, Browne-Dessailly and her family are suffering the pain of having lost a love one due to COVID-19. Frank, a hernia surgeon, and Rita, a long-time stay-at-home wife and mother, died of COVID-19 this spring at age 94 and 96 respectively.

The couple spent their lives giving back to those in need. Even in their elder years, if anyone in the neighbourhood needed a ride to church or if someone was suffering from an illness and needed a friend to take them for a doctor’s appointment, Frank and Rita Browne were always there to step in. Even after they died, the generosity continued.

“My dad in his will and my mom in her will left pages and pages of donations to Catholic Charities,” said Dessailly of her parents who had been parishioners at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Toronto since 1964. “My father’s best friend was the gardener at (the hospital that he worked). They were very humble and down-to-earth people.”

Devout Catholics, the couple raised their seven children in the faith and spent their retirement years attending Mass and assisting at the church daily. They believed strongly in the sacraments which they trust helped them through many hardships. Rita was a 50-year breast cancer survivor and Frank had beat the odds with pancreatic cancer for over 10 years.

In mid-April of this year, both developed dry coughs and were put on antibiotics. Rita seemed to be responding well while Frank seemed to be getting weaker and his cough worsening.   

By April 29 Frank was struggling badly with fluid in his chest and clearly not doing well. At 6:15 pm, paramedics came to pick Frank up, with he and the family expecting he would come back once they figured out what was going on. This was never to be. On April 30, he passed away.

With no time to grieve the family continued to tend to Rita, who was not doing well. She took her final breath on May 7.

As faithful members of their church community, parish priest Fr. Jude Coyle says the couple will be remembered for their devotion to the faith and to service. In her younger years Rita was involved with the CWL and Frank had been very involved with the pro-life movement. He was also a eucharistic minister and a highly respected member of the church community. 

“Frank was a real gentleman, he really was interested in people right up until he wasn’t able to come to church anymore,” said Coyle. “He would always stop and talk to people and his eyes would be focused on what people were saying. He was very attentive to people. He will be missed.”

Despite the pain of the season, Dessailly-Browne says they are grateful to have had the parents they did and to have their incredible legacy of faith and generosity to continue through every life they touched.

“Their unconditional love and their sense of charity will live on in us,” said Dessailly-Browne. “Frank and Rita were not saints, but to many of us, they came close.”

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