Rob Browning, the owner of Talavera Ceramics on University Avenue and the husband of former City Councilwoman Linda Maio, drowned Friday while swimming in rough seas in Baja California.

Browning, 78, and Maio had traveled to Mexico for a three-week trip that combined work and vacation, according to Jacquelyn McCormick, an aide to Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

Maio retired from the City Council in early December, and this was the couple’s long-awaited time away, said Lars Skjerping, who worked for Maio while she was in city government.

McCormick said that while he was swimming in a rough ocean off the Baja coast Friday, Browning could not make it back to shore. “They were there for a 3-week vacation and business trip for the store,” she wrote in an email.

The news hit Berkeley’s political community particularly hard as Maio was the city’s longest-serving City Council member. She served for 27 years representing District 1 which comprises a large swath of northwest Berkeley.

“The city of Berkeley mourns the loss of Rob Browning, the husband of former Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio,” Arreguín wrote in a statement. “Rob was a respected community member and small business owner, whose business Talavera Tile and Ceramics brought the art and color of Mexico into the homes of Berkeley residents. Rob was a dedicated partner to Linda and supported her during her many years of service to the Berkeley community. He will be dearly missed. Our heart goes out to our former colleague Linda and her family during this difficult time. We are here to support her.”

Rob Browning at Talavera Ceramics. Photo: Fares Alharazy

Browning owned Talavera Ceramics and Tile at 1801 University Ave. The store imported ceramics tableware, garden goods tiles, mirrors, metalwork, crafts and weavings from Mexico. It not only sold goods from Mexico but brought artisans to the store to show their craft. In March 2018, for example, women from the Chiapas cooperative Jolom Mayaetik came to Talavera to speak and demonstrate their weaving techniques. He was also a former editor of the Mark Twain Papers, housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. 

“Rob has been an activist himself in Berkeley for many many years, probably since he first moved here in the 60s when he sued then-Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and won,” his sister Virginia Browning told Berkeleyside in an email. “He has planted greenery and bloomery all over the neighborhood and worked for many neighborhood and city projects. He was a noted poet.”

Maio and Browning married in 2000 and she consulted for the store, she told Berkeleyside in March 2018. Browning had two children, Jonathan and Jessica, from his first marriage, and four grandchildren. Maio has two children from a previous marriage and two grandchildren.

Maio has asked that people send condolence cards rather than call or email her and her family, said McCormick. Cards can be sent to Maio, c/o The Mayor’s office, 2180 Milvia St., Berkeley, 94704. The cards will be brought to her.

Talavera Ceramics will remain open, according to Browning’s sister, Virginia.

“We are all very sad and shocked by this, but we hope people will continue to support Talavera,” she wrote.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...