Lisa Marie Browne, standing in front of a mural inside Dreyfoos School of the Arts, fell in love with the mission of the school. Her involvement grew to the point that she now chairs its foundation. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Brian Biggane
An invitation to a Dreyfoos School of the Arts luncheon 15 years ago proved to be more than an eye-opener for coastal Boca Raton resident Lisa Marie Browne. It was a revelation.
“The last board chairman, Simon Offit, invited me and he told me how successful these students were and how hard they work,” said Browne, who was recently named to succeed Offit as board chair of the Dreyfoos Foundation.
“At the luncheon a girl named Ariel, who weighed about 98 pounds, got up and belted out these songs from Broadway,” Browne recalled. “And then two pianists sat down and played side-by-side and I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. I found myself sitting there saying, ‘These are students. These are students.’”
Browne was so intrigued she asked to take a tour of the school, after which she was invited to serve on the board. A few years later she became vice chair, a position she held 10 times prior to succeeding Offit, who retired after serving as chairman for 23 years.
“At the time Louis was about 9, and I found myself getting more and more involved,” Browne said of her son. “It was, ‘OK, you’re having an event, I’ll do this. You need someone to tutor, I’ll do that.’”
Her observations made her admiration for the school grow.
“I learned how hard the students work, and how they come from every walk of life imaginable. From the student whose mom is bagging groceries at Publix, to ones coming from other countries — we even had students we took care of during hurricanes. It’s a great public high school.”
Browne’s loyalty to the program was tested a few years ago. She was involved with the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, had close friends in Broward County and was considering a move to get closer to both.
“But I have to live in Palm Beach County to be on the board,” she said of Dreyfoos. “Ultimately I knew if I moved that would no longer be the case. So, it played into my decision to stay.”
Browne, 60, is the single mother of Louis, now 24, an aspiring actor living in Manhattan.
Dreyfoos is not her only passion. A trip to Florence, Italy, years ago introduced her to the Uffizi Gallery art museum and she’s been closely connected ever since. Today, she serves as executive director of Friends of the Uffizi Gallery, a U.S.-based nonprofit whose mission is one of art conservation, historic preservation and education.
An opera lover, she is a lifetime member of the Florida Grand Opera. She is also a member of the Highland Beach chapter of UNICO, the largest Italian-American service organization in the country. In February she accompanied six friends on a three-week trip to Australia and New Zealand.
“I enjoy experiencing firsthand new customs and cultures,” Browne said. “This time we were extremely lucky, to make it back before our country shut down” because of the coronavirus.
— Brian Biggane
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I grew up in the small peninsula town of Bayonne, New Jersey, and attended Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School in a community dominated by Italian-Americans. It was there that I developed my lust for travel.
In the 1980s, I moved to Boca Raton and attended Florida Atlantic University, earning a B.S. in developmental psychology. During an art therapy master’s course I was invited to join a docent program at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, which changed my course of study to this day. I was enchanted with the arts and how art reveals history, both past and present. I have been supporting and teaching the arts on a daily basis ever since.
Q: What professions have you worked in?
A: My very first work experience was at Burger King … my dad called me the Burger Queen. I then worked in business in different office positions. My favorite position found me 14 years ago when I was asked to become the executive director of the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery, a 501(c)(3) U.S.-sanctioned organization created in Palm Beach County supporting the preservation of the artwork in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy.
Q: What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: Laocoön and His Sons was a monumental yearlong onsite restoration at the Uffizi Gallery set behind a plexiglass barrier allowing museum visitors to see the restorers at work. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi was a 6-year-long restoration project that at completion revealed never-before-seen areas on the masterwork.
In 2019 my friends and family supported the Uffizi’s newest room, The Titian Room, featuring the Venus of Urbino.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: Never be afraid to embrace a second chance.
Q: How did you choose to make your home in coastal Boca Raton?
A: I remember vividly the first time I entered Boca Raton via A1A from Deerfield Beach. The street screamed out to me as the asphalt changed from black to white upon entry. I was enchanted at that moment and still today I am thankful to be a Boca Raton resident.
Q: What is your favorite part about living in coastal Boca Raton?
A: The sunshine and easy access to everything — especially the beach, parks, the turtles, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the proximity to airports and the smiles on the face of every tourist that enters our magical world.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I am reading Art in Renaissance Italy for an art and architecture class I am taking online.
The “Crazy Rich Asians” series was my last fun read, so much so that I read it twice. Historical fictions are my all-time favorites.
Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: Andrea Bocelli for relaxation and soulful pop for inspiration.
Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: Yes, I was blessed with strong, intelligent and kind parents as my first mentors. One girlfriend that inspired me was my friend Davey, who is now in heaven. Davey’s wisdom was worth writing in books. During a crisis she traveled to Florence, Italy, to study art. Years later, I mimicked her therapy during my own change in life. Studying art history in Italy for me was life-changing.
Q: If your life story were to be made into a movie, who would play you?
A: Julianna Margulies. She’s someone I admire as an actress.