Mr. Brown

When my good friend Laura sent an email to me Friday morning that said, simply, "Call me," I had a feeling the news wasn't good.

I immediately dialed her number and she answered. "It's a sad day in the newsroom," she said, her voice breaking.

"Why is it a sad day?" I asked, knowing the answer that was coming. She shared with me a couple weeks ago that Mr. Brown, the publisher and president of the newspaper where I spent seven wonderful years before moving to The 'Ville last year, had been diagnosed with cancer. Just a few days ago, in an update, she told me the cancer was progressing fast.

"Mr. Brown passed away this morning," she said. My heart sunk.

Quite simply there was no other publisher like him, and it was an absolute privilege to know him and work for his company.

Nowadays a lot of publishers and newspaper heads are known for hiding in their corner offices - if they set foot in the building at all - and communicating with their ground floor employees through insincere company-wide emails. Prior to arriving at the News, I worked at smaller community newspapers where that was the case. But that wasn't Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown -- even in his 80s, at an age when a publisher's heirs usually are well in control -- was notorious for strolling through the newsroom at least once, sometimes two or three times, each day, checking in with the staff and passing along story ideas. It was not rare to see him in the morning hours as the next day's stories were just starting to be written, or late at night as the copy editors were putting the next day's edition to bed. He knew every reporter's name, he knew their beats and he was always quick to say hello.

Mr. Brown was such a mainstay in that newsroom, I can't imagine what it will be like without him. When our executive editor retired a couple years ago, he told a story about going to dinner with another editor on his first night in town 15 years earlier. The new executive editor made a comment about Mr. Brown's age and suggested that he couldn't be publisher for much longer. The other editor, who was a veteran of the paper himself, told our executive editor, "Mark my words. Mr. Brown will be signing your retirement papers." ... And he did.

Any compliment on a story coming from Mr. Brown was the highest compliment you could receive. "You had a marvelous piece on page one today," he would say in his low, gravely voice. ... One in particular that will stick with me was a story I wrote about a homicide. It was one of those mentally draining stories on which I'd done a lot of researching and reporting. And a compliment from Mr. Brown the next morning made it all worth it. But the funny part was Mr. Brown -- the kindest of men who never wished ill on anyone -- even added some quip like, "We need to have more shootings on our front page."

The memories and his impact will live with me for a long time. I'll never forget how he was always quick to compliment Kates and remind me how lucky I was to be with her when we saw him at city or company gatherings. I'll cherish the Christmas cards he and his wife sent us, and the embroidered blanket they sent us when Phoebe was born.

I will especially cherish the personal letter he wrote to me after I left the newspaper last year, in which he wished me good fortune and expressed confidence that I would make "a significant contribution to the advancement" of my college. He also thanked me for the Christmas card our family sent him that year, and wrote that he put it on his bulletin board so he could say "good morning" to our family when he arrived at work each day.

Now I say good morning to him at my new place of work. When I moved into my new office at the university, one of the first things to go on my bulletin board was a button of Mr. Brown that the newspaper handed out a few years ago to commemorate his birthday.

And no recollection of Mr. Brown is complete without mentioning the sayings he was known for around the newsroom. He had many. He often ended conversations with "Have an interesting day," or "Be of good cheer."

One of my favorites has always been that he called our newspaper the city's "most interesting daily newspaper." ... The joke was in that it was the only newspaper in town.

By mid afternoon Friday, as more people learned of his death, so many of my friends and former colleagues from the News began expressing their thoughts and condolences in Facebook status updates and tweets. ... The sentiments appeared almost like a viral campaign among our little circle of friends with the way all of us began "liking" and commenting on each other's postings. 

Throughout the weekend, I've been reading the newspaper's coverage on the death of our community icon and all of the tributes that have followed. This one from a publisher in Massachusetts, I think, says it all ...

"He was the kind of man who never failed
to make an impression on anyone he met.
He dedicated his whole life to journalism,
and you couldn't ask for a better boss. He was generous,
trustworthy, loyal, charitable and open, a person
who could be acutely perceptive and charming,
all in the same sitting."

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