George Brown


Hugh Johnston presents George Brow (pictured with Ossie Sheddy) with his CCNA Silver Quill award for 25 years of service or longer in the weekly newspaper business on September 17, 2006.

Note to the reader. This is the speech that I gave at the Radission Hotel in Calgary on Sept. 16 in making the presentation of the Silver Quill Award to George Brown, the publisher of The Devon Dispatch News and The Beaumont News.

By Hugh Johnston

As we get set to honour George Brown, I should point out that as a former reporter, editor and publisher, I decided to undertake some research before attempting tonight's task. Anthony Kovats, as one of George's colleagues in the early years, proved invaluable in providing me with information.

George's newspaper career really began when he was just a little kid growing up in Napanee, Ontario. He delivered papers for the Toronto Star, Kingston Whig Standard and the Toronto Telegram. He was quick to pick up on the fact that the dailies ran mostly the same lead stories but that they were told from a different point of view. The Napanee Beaver on the other hand, where his aunt was production manager, was the only paper that focused mainly on the Napanee area, something that also would stay with George.

In 1979 George decided to head west young man, where he enrolled in the two-year Journalism course at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. When I was on the Alberta Press Council one of my colleagues was Adrian Kennedy, who was one of George's instructors. In 1998 I would be asking him for a reference on George who had applied for the job of editor at our two papers in Devon and Beaumont. He described George as a tenacious reporter who liked doing things himself and had the drive of a perfectionist. He was determined like a bulldog in pursuing what he wanted, I recall Adrian saying.

Upon graduation in 1981, George had a brief stop at The Lamont Triangle and then it was on to The Sylvan Lake News where he got the prime compliment that an aspiring journalist could receive. He was referred to as a "disturbing influence."

George's next stop was Wetaskiwin, where with The Times Advertiser he racked up many awards for his newspaper and his staff. From special sections to hard-hitting front page stories or biting editorials, the paper was on the march.

One of his charges at the time was Anthony Kovats, who would soon refer to George as a mentor. “It wasn't easy to work for George but if you bought into his ideas, which meant total commitment and discipline, you would succeed,” Anthony said. “We called ourselves the DOGS, which stands for Disciples of George.” Many of George's former reporters are now editors at our larger newspapers.

In 1998 Mary Ann and I decided it was time to hire a full-time editor. After 13 years of laying out the paper, covering stories, writing editorials and leading the news staff, it was time to bring in something different. It wasn't that easy for George at first because coming from a larger paper like Wetaskiwin and then Strathmore, ours was rather different. Two reporters, two newspapers that are definitely different, and one editor. Once he made the adjustment, he started to put his own imprint on the newspapers.

Together George and his significant other, Julie Anne McRae, who became our production manager in 2001, reshaped the look of both papers with a dramatic new layout including the flag, masthead, column sizes, photo credits and type styles. It was an instant hit with both the readers and the publisher. George was quite the taskmaster and he drove the news staff hard. But the person he drove the hardest was himself. He would be one of the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. I used to have a helluva job every year getting him to take holidays. He was a stickler for accuracy and hated to be beaten on a story, which didn't happen often.

He also believed in being connected to the community and served as vice-president of the Devon and District Chamber of Commerce for five years, and now sits as vice-chair of the Devon Economic Development Board. Last year he was elected to the AWNA board where he has served as symposium chairman, and has judged better newspaper competitions for papers from other provincial and foreign jurisdictions. He was also elected as the second vice-president and corporate secretary of the AWNA.

George also joined the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, which has members all over the world. Once a year they have a competition and the top 12 entrants get recognition from their peers at their annual conference. George's editorial on the monarchy and its future made the Golden Dozen, which means his work ranked with the top 12 in the world; quite an achievement for a small pair of Alberta weeklies.

In the fall of 2002 Mary Ann and I decided to move to Victoria, B.C. to see what the island was like as a possible retirement location. We stayed 3 1/2 years and in our absence we appointed George and Julie Anne as co-managers. I was still in daily contact by either phone or email and would return for a visit about once every six weeks. We never skipped a beat mainly because of the management skills of both George and Julie Anne. So when we sold the papers in May I wasn't surprised when they appointed George publisher.

He was ready to move up. He is quite the sports fan and despite living in Alberta, still stubbornly cheers for the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and Argos. One day I noticed this small football on his desk that was coloured orange and brown. "What's with the ball?" I asked. "Hey, it’s my team, the Cleveland Browns,” said George Brown. Well all of your teams have a lot in common; they tend to lose.

Twenty-five years of service is a major accomplishment in any occupation but it is an even greater challenge in the newspaper business. George was an excellent employee and even though we would have our share of healthy arguments, they were always for the good of the newspaper and I truly believe that we always respected the other's point of view.

It is time to salute the Old Brown Dog and you know the year 2007 just might be the one where the Leafs win the Stanley Cup.

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