Cliff Browning, the youthful-looking, 54-year-old partner of Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarty, McNett & Henry dreamed of being a trial lawyer while watching “Perry Mason” as a kid growing up in Aurora, Illinois. “I wanted to be like Perry Mason, arguing in court for good versus evil,” laughs Browning.
But the only son of Phyllis and Paxton Browning never actually expected that he would become a lawyer because good vs. evil wasn’t on his father’s plate. “M’m! M’m! Good” was. His father was a field representative for Campbell’s Soup, which was then headed by a chemical engineer. “He wanted me to become a chemical engineer so that one day I might become president of the company,” says Browning, whose deep voice is reminiscent of talk show host Dick Cavett.
To achieve his father’s dream, the souped-up student maintained almost straight A’s at Purdue University where he worked as a waiter at Meredith Hall, a female dormitory. “I was a good waiter and I can still do it,” he says, extending his arm to balance an imaginary tray. When Browning graduated in 1972 with a BS in chemical engineering, he became his family’s first college graduate.
Humble Oil Company, now Exxon, recruited him to work at its refinery in Linden, N.J. But first Browning served for two years in the Army; he was discharged on August 9, 1974. “Richard Nixon and I left government service on the very same day,” he notes. “I was listening to the radio while driving through Tulsa, Okla., when the announcer said that Nixon’s San Clemente-bound plane was flying directly overhead. So, I rolled down window, stuck out my arm and gave him … a salute,” he says.
“Though I had been trained as an engineer, my instinct was to right wrongs,” says Browning, who entered the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis – where he is now an enthusiastic adjunct professor of trademark and unfair competition law.
Browning graduated from law school in 1978 and went to work as a law clerk for federal district court Judge James E. Noland. “I wanted to watch the best lawyers in town practice their trade because I still wanted to be Perry Mason,” he says. After two years, he left and joined Krieg DeVault where he worked as a trial lawyer with Dick Wagner, whom he admiringly calls, “the trial lawyer’s trial lawyer.”
During his four years at the firm, founding member Bill Krieg taught Browning how to sail at the Indianapolis Sailing Club on Geist Reservoir. “With the wind whistling in my ears and the water slapping on the hull, my very first time on the water was magical,” says Browning, who crewed for Krieg for two years before buying his own boat.
Professionally, Browning dropped anchor at Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarty, McNett & Henry in 1984 and made partner two years later. He also partnered with the firm’s diminutive librarian, Minde Glenn, who started crewing for the 6-foot-3-inch sailor. Drawn to the water and to each other, they eventually married. But in April of 1999, Minde developed stomach pains. As a teenager, she had survived Hodgkin’s disease, but her treatment required her to receive massive doses of gamma radiation. That radiation probably caused the cancer that killed her within a month after her stomach pains.
Browning is still in mourning. “If you went to my house, you would find her closet and drawers exactly the way she left them. I can’t bring myself to clean them out,” he says. He named one of his snipe-class sailboats “Minde” and sailed a similar snipe-class boat in the World Masters Championship in Rome this past summer. The sailboat is now back in Indianapolis awaiting Browning’s next change in latitude.