Charles E. Brown, Seattle Times journalist for more than 40 years and gospel radio-show host, is dead at 62.
He was the gentle one in the newsroom, the one who took the time to hear the stories others didn’t: from co-workers, the community and friends he nurtured for decades.
Charles E. Brown, a Seattle Times journalist for more than 40 years and local gospel radio-show host, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 62.
Born in Seattle July 27, 1948, Mr. Brown was a study in contrasts. In a newsroom full of fleece and jeans, he turned out every day in fine clothes, but his car — oh, dear. “Did you ever see his car?” asked his longtime friend, Zina Jordan, of Federal Way. “It was filled to the brim with these old Times newspapers, he would not throw them away, you could not have got in there, no one could get in there but Charles, they were even under the pedals.”
He was meticulous with the details in his stories but sometimes didn’t bother to cash his paychecks for so many months that the payroll staff would have to remind him.
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He was skinny as could be — but a prodigious eater. Chocolate milk, bacon and Coca-Cola were favorites — and his breakfasts were so big, it took two trays to carry it all. And while Mr. Brown cut a quiet, gentlemanly figure in the newsroom, he was firm when he needed to stand up, whether for himself, his stories or his family and friends.
In a 1992 performance evaluation, his editor noted: “On a recent Saturday night, we had an incident occur in which Charles Brown demonstrated his command of his position when he was under great pressure from the Mayor’s office to kill a story which they did not want run. His questions to the Mayor’s Office were to the heart of the matter: ‘What facts can you tell me that we do not have or which would replace erroneous parts of our story — and please distinguish between fact and what you wish were not fact.’ “
The story ran as written.
Mr. Brown lived in Issaquah and graduated from Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington’s journalism program. He was the first to receive a UW journalism scholarship for minorities in 1969, and one of the first people of color to work in the Times newsroom. Mr. Brown was a vital link for the newspaper to Seattle’s African-American community; there seemed to be almost no one he didn’t know.
“He was a really smart guy, and he knew how to chase news,” said Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large, “And he always questioned everything; he very often was smarter than the person editing him.”
Mr. Brown was a generalist, writing everything from obituaries to helping with the breaking-news coverage that won The Times a Pulitzer Prize this year. He relished his relationship with readers, built through his Bumper to Bumper column, which he wrote with zeal and a spirit of service.
“It gave him so much, it opened his eyes, people calling him and asking him questions,” said his mother, Mintory Brown, of Seattle. She remembered a son who would bake a pound cake for her, keep her company and help her with health problems, even as he became ill himself.
She said Mr. Brown took particular delight in his other life: his on-air persona as The Gospel Man, on the “Gospel Highway” radio show he hosted one Saturday a month on KBCS-FM (91.3).
He didn’t just spin records: Mr. Brown had an encyclopedic knowledge of gospel and interwove his program with information about the singers and history of the music.
“He was a bit of a showman, and I say that in the best sense of the word,” said Peter Graff, program director at KBCS. “His show was what we call appointment listening: People tuned in for it specifically.” The show, which Mr. Brown helped originate, will continue with the other three hosts.
A baritone blessed with a rich voice, Mr. Brown was the emcee of choice at countless church socials and programs.
“If anyone wanted to stir up a good program, you called Charles. He was the best emcee, and if you got him on your program, you pulled in a crowd,” said Sandra Magee, of Seattle, a friend for more than 40 years.
She cherished his kindness: Mr. Brown was the one she turned to whenever she needed something written, whether it was her father’s obituary or an important toast. “He was my go-to guy, and he was that for a lot of people. He was never too busy to help anyone.”
As a lead singer in church choirs, Mr. Brown was a voice that touched parishioners. “Oh could he sing, could he ever sing,” said Edwina Davis, of Seattle, who grew up in church with Mr. Brown at Goodwill Baptist. He eventually joined the choir at Mount Zion Baptist Church, where parishioners would call out before he would even open his mouth, so charismatic was his singing, said Phyllis Byrdwell, minister of music at Mount Zion.
“He had a beautiful, rich baritone that resonated and could stretch to a tenor,” she said. “But it also had an edge to it.”
So it went at The Seattle Times, where Executive Editor and Senior Vice President David Boardman remembered “a sweet, gentle, soft-spoken guy — except when he was on the phone with a recalcitrant source. Then, his gospel voice kicked in, and he usually got what he was after.”
In addition to his mother, Mr. Brown is survived by his nephew, Kevin Brown, of Bothell, niece Kimberly Yontz, of Atlanta; and many grandnieces and grandnephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by his father, Samuel, and brother Herman.
Services will be held at 11 a.m., Aug. 21, at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1634 19th Ave. in Seattle.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be made to the Patricia Fisher Endowed Scholarship; The Seattle Foundation; 1200 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1300; Seattle, WA 98101. The scholarship is named for the first woman and first African-American editorial writer and columnist at The Seattle Times, and is awarded to promising African-American high-school seniors or undergraduates living in the state.
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org