A Tribute to Roger Brown
by Leslie Ellis // October 10 2005
A black cloud continued to gloom over cable’s technical community last week, as we awaited the death of one of our cherished peers, Roger Brown, who runs sister publication CED Magazine as editorial director and publisher.
In mid-September, when many of us were in New York for activities surrounding the Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner, Roger and his family got terrifying news from his doctors: Cancer lacing through his liver; spleen triply enlarged.
This after being told, in July, that the week-long bio-chemotherapy treatments he endured earlier in the year had succeeded in killing the melanoma cells that were trying to kill him.
Outside of technical circles, Roger Brown is little known for his contributions to this industry. That’s why this week’s “translation” will focus on Roger, who is unquestionably the industry’s most gifted technology translator.
Losing him is like losing a supporting wall in our collective industrial house.
All of us who know and love Roger spent the past three weeks struggling beneath the weight of news. Near the end, Rog told me that he was approaching a place of calm. “It’s not my style to go out bitter,” he said. “It’s not who I am.”
Two weeks ago today, Roger and his wife of 22 years, Birdy, asked me to speak at his service. As my head exploded, I somehow simultaneously registered that Roger was planning his “last issue.” A macabre blessing, but a blessing nonetheless.
My job, along with my colleague and friend Rob Stuehrk, is to describe Roger’s impact on this industry. This, quite frankly, is a practice run.
Roger was a journalist first. He lived objectivity. He hated hyperbole, and struck it with pleasure from any stories slated to run in the magazine.
As a writer, he clarified without insulting, and wasn’t afraid to tackle controversy (technology contains big vats of it) or mind-twisting topics.
As a reporter, Roger was the master of the pause. When we’d do interviews together, I learned to let him take over towards the end. Usually it was some variation of “so what else is going on?” Then we’d shut up. Completely. The strain of the silence often invoked a juicy and unexpected nugget that alighted within the first two paragraphs of the resultant story.
As an editor, he was light-handed and fair.
Many Roger fans wrote to me last week that Roger is CED Magazine. He ran it for nearly two decades, and through eight corporate owners, always with that twinkly smile pouring out from page 4. Industry elder Joe Van Loan lauds Roger for being “like a sea anchor — he has a way of keeping us from whip-sawing around at every new thing to come along.”
The words describing Roger last week from his peers, colleagues, elders, and generally huge fan club were these: “Humble.” “Down-to-earth.” “Fair.” “Non-pretentious.” “Friendly.” “A beacon of candor in a dark room.” “Deliberate.” “Kind.” “Trustworthy.” “Remarkably accessible.”
That last one strikes a strong chord with those of us who work with Roger. He is that rarity in life who puts down his pen, turns away from the computer screen, ignores his phones, and focuses on YOU, when you enter his work area (press room, office, wherever.)
Inform Not Impress
“Within the pages of this technical magazine, Roger managed to reconcile the practical with the theoretical, and he managed to do so in a way that kept every reader’s interest,” said Dom Stasi, the chief technology officer for TVN Entertainment, and a friend of Roger’s. “He was out to inform, not to impress. That was his genius.”
Those of you who read this column regularly know that I’m reluctant to blather on about myself — a tenet I learned from Roger. Yet, in this case, I feel compelled to note that, in April, I dedicated my NCTA Vanguard Award to him.
In my acceptance remarks, Roger was the only individual I mentioned by name. I thanked him for teaching me not to be afraid of technology, and for introducing me to the technologists who take the time to describe things well. (I didn’t thank him for introducing me to an eclectic guy named Doug, who became my husband. But I could have, because he did.)
When Roger asked me to speak at his service, I asked him how he wanted to be remembered. He said he wanted to be remembered as someone who treated people as he wanted to be treated.
For me, that legacy started 15 years ago, when Roger and I were trolling new products at a trade show. We happened upon a new amplifier, and I asked an unnamed technology honcho, standing nearby, what was different about it. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it,” the honcho said. “It just has lots of bells and whistles.”
Roger didn’t miss a beat. “Back off, (name of honcho),” he said. (With gusto.) He became my big brother that day, and stayed that way ever since.
It is a great honor to be Roger Brown’s “little sister,” at least in an industrial sense. It is also a role I plan to carry on, especially with so much of Roger’s sunny, steady spirit still thriving in his kids: Tony, (17); Cayleigh (14), Nick (12) and Allie (7).
It is highly unlikely that Roger will ever read this, or any of the “assignments” he gave us in the days before his death. That heightens the honor — but doesn’t do much to lift the black cloud of void.
Editor’s Note: Contributions to the Brown family can be made by check to the Roger Brown Family Account, care of First American State Bank, 8390 E. Crescent Parkway, Suite 100, Greenwood Village, CO 80111.