July 29, 1946 - December 9, 2009
Some memories by
Missed Call-Monday-Dec. 7, 2009 4:04pm
Bob left a message at 4:05pm.
He called again soon after leaving the message saying his tests had been put off until the 16th and was wondering if I’d be back from Las Vegas by then to shoot the procedure. I reminded him that he’d already lined up someone before I left because I couldn’t get back until the 17th. He seemed confused. He said he forgot but now he knew who to call, and to disregard his previous voice message.
I had planned to erase it but just didn’t get to it.
I finally played the message Thursday morning shortly after getting word of his death.
It was strange hearing his voice.
In contrast to our conversation it was clear and confident.
Just like everything else in his life for the last four years, he had his good moments, and his bad moments, but more and more lately, he might be speaking passionately one minute and then flutter his eyes and drift off, softly and quickly to sleep, in mid conversation.
Bob Brandon, a dear friend, a wonderful storyteller and teacher, has died.
Bob never met a problem he couldn’t handle, somehow.
Except maybe this one, and in his own way, maybe he handled this one too.
He knew this outcome was likely. We talked about it.
Yet, he fought for every moment he stayed alive.
He wasn’t one to sit down and let the end game take care of itself.
It won’t be the same without him.
I first met Bob while working for Channel 9 in the early 1980s. I don’t remember the first time we met. It seems like we always knew each other.
We often covered the same TV news stories. He was a free-lancer working mostly for CBS, Outgoing, easy to talk to and a friend to anyone who wanted to be his friend.
We were from similar backgrounds, both born in the south. He was 13 days older.
We started our careers in Texas, his in Houston at KPRC about the same time I worked for WFAA in Dallas, and so we knew a lot of the same people and lived through the same Texas history.
He’d save a place for me in the camera line at one Colorado press conference and I’d do the same for him at the next. Over time, our friendship and respect for one another grew. We laughed at the same jokes. We doubted the same religions. Liked the same bourbon and voted against the same political party.
I could always turn to Bob for a straight up answer and he knew he could expect the same from me.
We helped each other on stories.
We complained to each other over the downsides of the news business.
We cheered each other for the awards we won.
We consoled one another over crippling matters of the heart.
We encouraged each other as we faced the medical uncertainties of middle age
and, as we grew older, lamented the passing of a time we moved about the world more confidently.
We understood each other.
He was there for me and I for him.
He offered work if I left channel 9 and encouraged me to try my hand at freelancing.
I bought my first camera from Bob, and the gear to go with it, simply on my promise to pay.
No contract, just my word.
We never broke our word on any agreement we ever made.
He was honest to a fault. He’d say the same of me.
I hope I never disappointed him.
He was a huge support over the years, opening his ‘little black book of contacts’ to me until I could secure enough work to make it on my own.
|Chuck Richardson, Bob Brandon and Ed Bradley|
He introduced me to clients knowing they’d probably call me in the future and not him.
Bob was a very generous man.
That’s not to say he didn’t have his faults. I’ve been on the road with Bob and I know what a taskmaster he can be.
He could be difficult at times.
|In Memphis with Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes|
Over the years, I’ve known four of Bob’s sound persons. And I’ve heard them tell similar stories of life on the road with him filled with, yes, adventure and action, but also hard work, long hours, isolation from family and friends and sullen comfort often taken with his old friend, Jack Daniels.
It could be a lonely life but by the next a.m. Bob was always, “wheels up” at… whatever
God-awful time. Work always came first.
Producers loved working with Bob. I believe he could have worked nearly every day if he wanted to and there were stretches when he had to, and did work long weeks to keep Helical Post afloat for a few more days.
That kind of grind can wear a man down from the inside out, and it did take its toll.
He just didn’t show it. He wouldn’t allow anything to hold him down for long.
I so admired that determination.
God knows I’ve taken strength from Bob’s struggles. If he can fight back like that…
Well, what problems do I really have anyway?
I remember a fall day back in 2005, standing in a hospital hallway with Smurf and Bob Swenson and his wife, as Bob was being wheeled past us and down a long, sterile, fluorescent-lit corridor to surgery.
The mass of monitors and IV stands that were snaking wires and tubes back to Bob on the gurney was intertwined with nurses and orderlies struggling mightily to keep it all moving while wrangling it into some kind of hospital order.
The sight was almost funny, sort of Chaplinesque, a parody of the moment, growing smaller as they moved down the hallway, the many pieces slowly becoming one in the distance.
It was very quiet.
I don’t think any of us believed we’d ever see Bob again.
As it turned out,
It was just another step in a long process.
Later we told Bob about the strange scene and added, that on this worried occasion, one of us had even suggested Dean Schneider’s Film/Video as a good place for a memorial service. I don’t remember who suggested it, but Bob thought it was a great idea anyway.
Bob was in a coma for what seemed like weeks. I don’t remember how many days it was but it was a long time.
I went to see him. I talked to him. I read to him. I made sure CNN, and not FOX, played on the TV in his room.
And I sat with him watching the tragic stories about hurricane Katrina coming in daily from New Orleans.
I thought it was important to keep him stimulated in some way but he remained unresponsive for days and days.
Then, finally, he began to come around.
He could focus and follow me with his eyes. He could squeeze my hand.
He could smile. But he couldn’t speak.
The ventilator keeping him alive prevented that.
With an A-B-C board and a pointer we began an impossible quest for communication that burned up incredible amounts of time and undoubtedly reestablished old links to all kinds of broken synapses… in each of us.
Bob tried so hard to speak.
One morning I worked for hours trying to make sense of what he was struggling to say. The huge smile that broke out on his face when I finally guessed ice, told it all.
I was so excited to finally discover that he was asking for a piece of ice that I went running to the nurses’ station with the news only to be told, “Yes, we know. But he can’t have any”.
I snuck him a small piece anyway.
It was the first time we had communicated a thought since this whole thing began and we deserved some kind of a toast.
It was wonderful to see him coming back but very frustrating to try to talk to him and not know if I was getting through.
He later said he didn’t remember any of this anyway.
He did say, that before he came back, he had good memories of things happening around him and of bright, warm lights.
He said it wasn’t frightening at all.
He wanted to write a book about the experience and, in fact, did begin to work on it. But most of his time spent in the first hospital was a black hole from which he could pull no conscious memories.
By the time he was moved to the second hospital, Bob was pretty well aware of what was going on and surprised when his good friend, Greg Dobbs, just back from the storm ravaged gulf coast, stopped by and told us about his TV reports from New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina. The vivid “behind the scenes” stories were amazing.
Bob was fascinated. He didn’t know a thing about the storm. He had been in the coma through it all and he hung on Greg’s every word.
It was a real treat to be there and watch these two great storytellers interact.
I’ve had that experience so many times with Bob.
With him I’ve met Presidents and protesters, newsmakers and lawbreakers, lovers and haters and listened to them all spin their stories for his camera.
And I’ve heard Bob tell his own stories.
Stories about exploding gas tankers and bull riding rodeo queens, hard drinking CBS newsmen and life on the road with Darrell Barton and 48 Hours.
Although I’ve spent very little time with him outside of the hospital, I feel like I know Darrell as a close friend.
Bob mentioned Darrell nearly every time we talked. There’s no one Bob talked about more.
There’s also no one he talked to on the phone more.
Good lord, I can’t imagine what kind of phone bills they must have shared.
Bob always had a plan or was working on one.
Sometimes it was even a good one.
But he always had a plan and he always ran it through the “Barton Filter” before acting on it.
Bob told me every Darrell Barton story that ever really happened or someone just plain made up.
Bob said he knew which was which.
What a life. They did so much together.
Outside of Ellie, there’s no one in this world who meant more to Bob Brandon than Darrell Barton.
What a great, enduring friendship.
Bob taught me a lot about friendship.
He wouldn’t allow resignation to stifle his hopes.
He taught me that as long as you own
this very moment,
you have as much right to the future, as anyone else.
Bob squeezed everyday out of those last years with a smile.
He fought the good fight.
He went quietly and quickly.
He left love and peace in his wake.
I can say I knew him for 30 years and I’ll miss him.
But he’ll be my friend,
Long, long, long beyond that.