Michael Phelps, Scott Schurz, and Howard Brown
Michael Phelps, Scott Schurz, and Howard Brown

 

Howard Brown died today at the age of 87 after a brief battle with cancer.

Beyond being the president of United Communications Corp. in the Midwest United States, Mr. Brown was INMA's longest-serving member. He joined INMA in 1962, making him a member for 49 years.

He was the 2005 recipient of the Silver Shovel Award, our association's highest honour for contributions to the association and the industry.

Looking beyond the biography, Mr. Brown was a courtly man with a genteel playfulness and a profound love of newspapers. He was quick with a tease and quick with the type-written notes of thanks — for a conference, for an article, for anything.

His intense and deep personal care for the people under his employ (his “family,” he called them) were tested deeply in the past decade as two economic downturns pushed the transformation of his company, like others, toward being less print and less populated with people. He knew what was right for business, but he agonized over the cost to people.

I got to know Mr. Brown late in life.

In 2001 at the INMA World Congress in San Francisco, we had tea in the Westin St. Francis Hotel lobby. He asked to meet with me, but he didn't have an agenda. “I need an escape,” he told me, explaining a transformation vs. people issue back home.

We would annually find time for coffee, tea, or dinner. He would beg me not to call him “Mr. Brown,” but his manner and our age difference (42 years) demanded it. Others felt fine with “Howard,” yet others called him “Uncle Howard.”

What amazed me about Howard Brown was his stamina. He attended INMA World Congresses annually — up to last year's New York event. He sat through every session. In addition to INMA, I know he attended conferences from other associations.

In your late 80s, you should be thinking of easing up. Not Mr. Brown.

For those who knew him, some details might be of interest. Mr. Brown was a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia School of Journalism. During World War II, he served in the European Theatre as a corporal. He later was a foreign correspondent with the Chicago Sun-Times and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as a manager for Ottaway Newspapers.

He joined the Kenosha News in late 1961, and it took him just a few months to find INMA, then known as the National Newspaper Promotion Association!

United Communications Corporation is based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and includes three daily newspapers, three television stations, and several weeklies and shoppers.

A father, grandfather and husband, Mr. Brown once told me that next to winning the hand of his wife, his greatest achievement in his life was “choosing his parents wisely.”

He saw the newspaper industry (and INMA) through the best of times and the worst of times. Frankly, you just don't see that kind of loyalty much any more.

One of Mr. Brown's favourite quotes sums up the celebration of his life and death today, and he told this to me many times: “Life can be reduced to a few short sentences: Man lives. Man suffers. Man dies. … But it's an interesting story.”

 

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A 2008 interview with Howard Brown about INMA, the future of newspapers, and learning internationally.

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