A True Austinite: In Memorium of Floyd “Brownie” Higgs

As each of us goes through our careers, we encounter individuals who, by the sheer force of their spirit, make our profession and our work lives better. If we’re lucky and end up in the right places, we may encounter more than one or two of these special individuals. And, when one of those people pass away, there is a strange mix of emotions; sadness and mourning, smiles in the remembrances of how they lightened our lives, and a deep sense of appreciation for being blessed to have encountered that spirit in our profession and our lives.

Floyd (Brownie) Higgs was one such person. Brownie passed away last weekend and the flurry of emails and LinkedIn messages about his passing has woven through our daily work communications in much the same way as his presence in a difficult meeting or project made everyone associated with it feel more confident that we will get through this.

Brownie started at Austin in Chicago as an architectural intern from Texas Tech, who would come up to Chicago to play gigs in Chicago night clubs as a drummer. Austin’s pay for interns was probably a bit more reliable than playing in night clubs, but before long it was clear that his love of music was probably surpassed by his talent as an architect.

For the next 45 years, Brownie was given just about every tough assignment the company had, which took him to Mexico, Argentina, Spain and eventually, back to Chicago. Architect, Project Manager, business developer, operations manager, director of government services and founder of a new design studio concept. He was as ardent an Austinite as I have ever known. Every project and assignment was an adventure for him and he relished it and made the absolute most of it. He never complained. He always laughed and smiled and encouraged.

He was a great architect and was a force behind promoting the possibilities of aesthetic design for industrial facilities within a design build mode. He inspired everyone around him to do better in part, I think, because he knew no other way. No one that worked with him was left unaffected by the experience. As a previous president said about him, “if I had a tough job and had the opportunity to pick a team, he would certainly be on the team. He took ownership of every job and assignment he was given. And while he was executing the assignment with his typical passion and competency, he kept the morale and the spirit on the team up with his stories and jokes.”

When things were going tough and very competent people were struggling, Brownie could calm the waters and get them to focus. Someone once commented that the project team was “a full six pack, but that Brownie was that plastic thingy that holds them all together.”

When he retired at the end of 45 years with Austin, the company management team presented him with a framed cymbal, signed by all of us, with the encryption “The drummer is never out there in the front taking the limelight, but he drives the band and they take their lead from him.” This was Brownie to a tee! A teacher, a leader, a mentor, a great architect, a musician, an artist, and most of all, a great and true friend. No one who worked with him ever came away not thoroughly enjoying the experience and feeling enriched personally and professionally by it. 

As a colleague remarked, “May we be fortunate to be as well-remembered as Brownie is.”

On a personal note, it has been about a year or more since I last spoke with him. I regret not reaching out to him since then. So, indulge me while I use this as a way of saying, “Thanks, Brownie, for making our Company a great place to work and to live. We’re hoisting a cold Bud in your honor.”

“The drummer; he inspired me to play like no one else I have ever met.”

Chet Baker