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It All Started with a Wink: A Surry Community College Story for Valentine's Day


"That boy winked at me. And I thought he was so cute that I winked back. I'd never winked at a boy before!"

That's how SCC alumna and now part-time employee, Lu Ann Venable Browne, describes the first time she met her husband in a class at Surry Community College. The year was 1980, and both were taking an evening BASIC Language Computer Programming class taught by Mr. Charles Strickland. At that time, colleges were just beginning to offer courses in computer science, and it was an exciting new field of study for many people.

After each class session, students could spend time in a computer lab to complete their assignments as personal home computers were rare. That same evening during the lab portion of class, Lu Ann says she walked up to the boy who winked to ask his name. He replied that his name was "Charlie Browne," and upon hearing that, she demanded to see his driver's license thinking he was teasing her with a fake name. "I never dreamed I'd eventually become Mrs. Charlie Browne," she says, laughing.

The couple was married in January 1985 and has just recently celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary. They have two daughters, Mary Beth and Laura, who have both have been taken to SCC to see the spot in the Dobson campus A-Building where their parents met.

Charlie Browne was a student in SCC's Electronics Program from 1980-1982, receiving an Associate in Applied Science in Electronics and eventually receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Management Information Systems from Liberty University. After getting a degree at Surry Community, he worked for Picker International, now Phillips Medical, first as an x-ray service engineer, and ultimately getting in on the ground floor of their Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) service and installation division. His time working with MRI installations and service eventually led him to several years of employment at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he was Manager of Systems Integration in Radiology Information Technologies, with a final career at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, where he was Senior Systems Analyst and PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) Administrator for the Novant IT department before retirement in 2020.

Lu Ann Browne received Associate in Science and Associate in Arts degrees from SCC in 1981 and transferred to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. She was then employed as a computer programmer for Piedmont Airlines and USAirways in Winston-Salem, where she became a manager in the Information Technology (IT) department. In 1999, job duties required considerable out-of-state travel, so she decided to leave the company and stay home with their daughters who were very young at the time. In 2005, she became the Director of Development and IT at Millennium Charter Academy in Mount Airy, working there until her retirement in 2021.

In March 2023, Lu Ann accepted a position as part-time marketing assistant at Surry Community College to, in her words, "be around people a little more." She adds, "I feel like I've come full circle being back at Surry!"

Each of the Brownes attributes much of their career success to Surry Community College.

Charlie says, "My degree at Surry served me so well. It provided a foundation for me to have a lifelong career in the medical industry. Because I learned about electronics at Surry, I was able to use that knowledge to work on x-ray machines, MRI machines, CT scanners, and more, and all that eventually led me to my path in medical information technology. My education at Surry has served me my whole life."

Lu Ann says that her time at Surry Community College more than prepared her for transferring to a four-year university. "Everything I took at Surry transferred in credit hours to UNCC. I went in as a junior, and honestly, I feel like I was more prepared than others who had been there since their freshman year. In addition, my parents were glad to have me around a couple more years, and they were especially glad for the money we saved as the result of me going to SCC."

The other thing that Charlie and Lu Ann are quick to point out regarding Surry Community College is their teachers. Both say they still fondly remember all their SCC teachers, but that it's difficult to remember teachers from their four-year universities. Lu Ann says, "Everything was so personal at SCC. The teachers seemed to really care that we got what we needed. They became our friends, not just our teachers, and being back now, I can still see that happening, some forty-plus years later. It's very impressive how that feeling of family and warmth is still so pervasive on campus."

Charlie adds, "The friends I made at Surry are still my friends today. It's wonderful to have a local institution where you can meet lifelong friends and get a good education that will serve you your whole life. I'm so glad I went to Surry. A word of advice, though: be careful who you wink at!"

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