Remembering longtime Portland Tribune sports editor Steve Brandon
The text message could come at any time: "QC?"
It meant Steve Brandon wanted to have a "quick call" to discuss a story idea, ask how an interview went, or just make sure we were on the same page about what I was working on for the next edition of the Portland Tribune.
As I type these words, in fact, I can hear Steve suggesting in his friendly, gentle voice that I get to the heart of whatever subject I was writing about.
Sitting at my keyboard, however, it's painful to get to the heart of this story. But here goes:
Steve Brandon is gone. He died of a heart attack on Friday, Sept. 9, only 68. A man who, it seemed, rarely slept during the almost four years I worked for him is resting in peace. I mourn for his family, wife, Carol, and his kids, Jake, Shasta and Jared.
A celebration of Steve's life is planned for 1 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 21, at Immanuel Fellowship Hall, 7810 S.E. 15th Ave., in Portland.
Steve was the best kind of mentor. His work ethic was unmatched. His encouragement was genuine. His brain was an encyclopedia of Portland sports. From the school level to the Trail Blazers, it seemed he knew everybody — and what they were up to.
Which was why I'm glad those "QCs" seldom were quick. Oh, the "work" part of the chat would usually go quickly. Dotting the "i" and crossing the "t" was among Steve's many strengths. But, more often than not, a "QC" became a 45-minute chat that meandered beyond sports, or at least beyond the work in front of us. Often, these happened when Steve was at the grocery store or when he was feeding or entertaining his beloved cats.
Until I came to work at the Tribune late in 2016, I didn't know Steve well. Our paths had occasionally crossed (often at Timbers training sessions in the pre-MLS days). But I'd been reading Steve's work since he started at the Oregon Journal in 1976, so getting to work with — and, more importantly, to become friends with — an icon of Portland sports journalism was a tremendous blessing.
In 2001, Steve made the jump from The Oregonian to be a founding staff member of the Portland Tribune. In the spring of 2020, Steve's 19-year tenure at the paper ended as a result of pandemic-related staffing cuts.
I last spoke with Steve on July 25, the first time in several months we had connected. He talked with enthusiasm about his gig covering local sports for the weekly Itemizer-Observer, about how much fun he was having writing about the young athletes of Polk County and at Western Oregon University.
That was, in fact, what Steve was doing when he died. He had been at the dedication of the track at Dallas High in honor of longtime supporters. I presume he stayed for the football game that followed, then headed to the newspaper's office to file his stories, a ritual fall Friday for sports reporters in communities small and large.
It's trite to write that Steve Brandon died doing what he loved. But it's the truth. Why else would he write 11 stories for the Sept. 7 edition of the Itemizer-Observer?
My last interaction with Steve was the evening of our July 25 chat. After saying goodbye, he texted me photos of the menagerie in his front yard, neighborhood animals there for their evening snack courtesy of Steve Brandon.
Among the attendees was one random duck Steve said had recently begun showing up.
I expect those critters still show up in the Brandon's yard, like so many of us baffled at how our friend could be gone.
— Paul Danzer.
Following Steve's death, many memories and tributes have been shared with the Tribune, on social media and elsewhere. Here is a sampling of those tributes that we feel capture the Steve Brandon we knew and loved:
• No one worked closer with Steve over four-plus decades than Kerry Eggers. The former Portland Tribune sports columnist wrote about working with Steve and about their friendship on his website, kerryeggers.com. Among the recollections:
"Steve embodied the philosophy of our mentor, former Journal sports editor George Pasero, who always preached, 'A sportswriter knows no hours.'"
Eggers notes that much of the writing Steve did for the Tribune was for the Scoresheet column of news and notes, "filling in the cracks of what hadn't already been covered. Steve spent hours upon end writing briefs, often information about local sports that never get covered — small college, community college, high school, especially the PIL. A Cleveland High grad, Steve made sure his old school and league were taken care of. There's little doubt Steve Brandon should be a member of the PIL Hall of Fame."
And Eggers shared this wonderful description of Steve:
"If you have a vision of Steve as a big, boisterous sports guy, you're mistaken. He was 5-foot-6 on a good day, soft-spoken, with a ready smile and a quick wit. The man was kind, warm, gentle, humble. His temper was even as a basketball baseline, and it served him well, in business and in life. More than anything, he had a great way about him. If you couldn't get along with Steve Brandon, that's on you, not on him."
Eggers is hoping that a scholarship fund for a young journalist can be created in Steve's honor, noting, "It would be a tribute that would make him proud, and it would be fitting given his terrific work with budding writers."
• Dave Lister, a Cleveland High classmate and teammate of Steve Brandon on the Cleveland club soccer team that won an Oregon Youth Soccer Association state title, recalled reconnecting earlier this year with Salomon Levy of Cali, Colombia, a foreign exchange student on that team.
Steve showed up with a package for Levy, Lister said.
"We could tell by the shape it was a yearbook, and I figured that Steve had found one on the internet to give to Salo, which was a very cool gift. But Steve clarified. 'No, you do not understand. Salo, this is your annual you were given 50 years ago. You forgot to take it with you back to Colombia and I saved it.'
"That's right. Steve Brandon kept that yearbook all those years and when Salo flipped it open there were all the inscriptions we had written for him that he had not seen for 50 years. I am still in awe over Steve's having done that."
• Joel Fowlks, a former Tribune copy editor and neighbor of Steve Brandon, said being sports editor of the Tribune was a role Steve was born for: "He had the best grasp of the local sports scene of anyone I knew. He had the widest frame of reference — a local expert not only on the Big Three sports but on anything sports related in the area. …
"I truly believe Steve could have written or edited any section of the newspaper. He was one of the most respected people at the Tribune because of his solid journeyman journalism skills and his blue-collar work ethic. He worked every day, and damn near all day, making sure each sports section met his standards. It was the work of two or three people, and that's not an exaggeration.
"He was an excellent golfer. He would have been a scratch handicap if he played more. He'd picked up the game as a local kid kicking around Eastmoreland Golf Course, just like I had. And he had the ingrained, easy, repeatable swing you get when you pick up the clubs early in life. He'd go five years without playing, then go out and break 80.
"He had a number of new-age-y interests, including mysticism and organic health food. His nickname going back to Journal days was "Germ," short for wheat germ. He usually had a bottle of some godawful homemade green juice that he was drinking.
"I saw him July 4 at the Eastmoreland parade. But I was working a table for the neighborhood association and he was walking a distance away into a crowd. He didn't see me and we didn't chat. No matter. He lives around the block. Some other day.
"And then one morning there are no other days."
• Dwight Jaynes, who worked with Steve Brandon both at the Oregonian and as editor of the Portland Tribune, called Steve the best sports editor he ever worked with.
"A pro's pro. Always a ready smile and always willing to take on a new task. His work ethic was incredible. A great person and a great friend who will be missed by many."
• Mike Lund, Portland State sports information director, remembered how cool it was to have Steve Brandon, at the time a Blazers writer for The Oregonian, follow the Portland State softball team to the 1991 NCAA Division II Final Four:
"It wasn't an NBA-level event, but you could tell he was enjoying it just the same."
Lund recalled a day in the early 2000s when Steve — a regular at PSU football practices during his 19 years at the Tribune — wrapped up interviews with coach Tim Walsh and some Viking players. "He said: 'Well, now I have to go over to Blazers practice….' (It was during that era when things weren't going so well in the organization) 'and just hope that somebody, anybody will talk to me.' He gave that little sheepish smile of his, shook his head and walked away. It actually made me feel good that we were so accessible to him, and also reminded of the challenges of being a sportswriter. Steve definitely saw it all."
• Kyle Garcia, who works in the sports information department at the University of Portland, was one of the many summer interns Steve mentored:
"He was a great editor who taught me so much about how to do local sports coverage with passion and precision, and I'm forever grateful for my summer under his wing at the Tribune. I heard Steve say, 'Well … shoot' many times in just three months with him. He was a good reporter, but also a great mentor and person."
• Rick Rappaport: "Fifty years have passed since I first worked (as the photographer) with Steve Brandon at the short-lived Community Press, with very few encounters since. Yet, his infectious smile and gentle spirit stays with me as I tear up reading about his death and feeling his presence."
• Stephen Alexander, former Tribune sportswriter:
"I worked for Steve for over a decade. He gave me my first job as a professional writer. Most people don't like their boss, and yet I loved Steve Brandon. Not only was Steve a great boss, mentor and friend, he was one of my favorite writers.
"I went back and looked at the message he wrote to me and Sarah Kellogg Mahalic in our wedding guestbook. Steve crafted this entirely out of lyrics by The Beatles, his favorite band. It showcases how sweet and thoughtful he was, and also how damn talented he was at putting words down on paper.
"This is what he wrote:
"'Sarah + Stephen,
"'Now it's getting better with every little thing, eight days a week. Speak words of love and think, it's two of us, journeying across the universe on our ticket to ride, here, there and everywhere, ever since Stephen saw her standing there and now that Sarah loves you, you both can look at what you're doing, even when I'm 64.'
"Rest easy, my very good friend."
• Scott Olson, publisher of the Polk County Itemizer-Observer, the weekly paper Steve was working for when he died, posted a remembrance on his paper's website:
"I'll never forget our first meeting. He walked into my office, took one look at my sports photos and paraphernalia and started asking questions. He was very personable and friendly. At that moment I knew I had to have him as part of the I-O news team.
"It didn't matter that he lived in Portland. … Steve was a consummate newspaperman, which is truly very difficult to find these days. Every Sunday night came a slew of stories and photos that he sent in for the upcoming issue. … He was the most prolific, error-free writer I have ever worked with.
"He truly cared about the people he was interviewing and showed a great deal of respect and interest in everyone he covered. Needless to say, there will never be another Steve Brandon. There are a limited number of those types of people. I'm so thankful and blessed to have had Steve be a part of the I-O team this past year. He brought readers back to the newspaper and helped everyone feel good about themselves."
• Another example of Steve's dedication was captured in a Facebook post from Dennis Vigna, proprietor of the Skybox Pub in Sellwood for 18 and a half years.
"You were the cream of the crop. Thanks for the memories, especially when you came down to the Skybox Pub, and waited till I closed down and locked the door for the last day. Then you interviewed me for a nice article in the Tribune. Portland lost a good one."
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