University Library

Remarks from Friends and Colleagues

TributeTo Cecil Brown
From Glenn Dumke, Chancellor Emeritus of the
California State University
Read by: Gloria Lothrop

Cecil Brown was our good friend, and Dorothy and I sincerely regret not being with you today to honor him.

As one of the great journalists and newscasters during and after the Second World War, Cecil, with his courtly and dignified manner) was internationally known and respected. His academic career which followed added luster to the California State University and to Cal Poly in particular.

He was always our warm friend.

As an historian interested in bringing some perspective and reason to our understanding of world affairs, hound Cecil's view of the world to be that to which all of us should aspire - balanced, reasoned, never afraid of the truth, and always with human compassion.

Cecil Brown was the sort of professor that students should have.

In his wife, Martha, he had an ideal companion who traveled and worked with him throughout his career.

We will miss him.

A Personal Reflection: by Allen C. Christensen

As a lad, some of my earliest memories were of the war. With friends I would watch the troop trains roll through our little town. We had in our home a small wood-encased radio. My father would tune it to the news. From its speaker, three stirring voices still ring down through memory: those were voices of Winston Churchill, Edward R. Murrow, and Cecil Brown. I listened in awe to their accounts of the world at war, of their summons to action. Their eloquence was not easily forgotten nor lightly dismissed.

Some years passed as years must. I was a college freshman taking English. One of the pieces we were assigned to read was entitled, "Stand By for Torpedo." The editors in their evaluation of this piece wrote:

Because it is a vivid account of a kill-or-be-killed experience, and because the event reported is extremely significant in the history of warfare, "Stand By for Torpedo" may well be considered a classic piece of report writing.

Cecil Brown's piece was then and is now rightfully designated a classic.

More time went by. The youth of yesterday had become, after some effort, an associate professor at a place called Cal Poly. Among his assigned duties was that of managing the university poultry laboratory. One day he and his students were selling freshly processed broiler chickens. The phone at the unit rang. A voice with warmth and dignity said, "This is Cecil Brown, do you have any fresh chickens left'?" A few minutes later, in through the south door came Cecil Brown - tall, handsome, warm and engaging. I went home and re-read "Stand By for Torpedo."

A few days later, I chanced to meet him again. "I must tell you," I said, "that as a boy I listened in fascination to your gripping accounts of the war." He looked at me, a little twinkle in his eye and said, "I cannot tell you how old that makes me feel."

Cecil Brown was a speaker on several occasions to the Agricultural Leadership Program. The participants described him as the Senior Senator from Virginia. His was a commanding presence. In the give and take sessions, he quickly disarmed the ill prepared. He was appropriately intimidating. The Leadership Fellows to the person appreciated his insightfulness and admired his incisiveness.

My only daughter spent her first college year at Cal Poly. Inasmuch as she was planning (to) transfer to another university, I asked Cecil for a favor, "Please admit her to your class." As always, his classes were filled and had a waiting list. "Send her to the first class," he said, "and I will see what I can do. What is her name'?"

"Ann," I responded.

Ann was admitted and she said, "It was unquestionably the highlight of my year at Cal Poly, for Professor Brown taught the lessons and personalities of history from the perspective of personal acquaintanceship. He had been there. Most others had only read about it!"

For his part, Cecil always asked about her. Several years later, while home for a visit, she came to lunch at the staff dining room. Cecil was there. It was a warm and genuine exchange. She adored him. He was delighted to see her. If we but knew, this example is likely one of hundreds.

We will miss Cecil. He was a splendid man. I am grateful that our lives were enriched by him. Heaven is now a more interesting place. Our love and appreciation go out to his sweetheart, Martha, who has so generously shared him with all of us.

Donald Pfluger
Read by John Esterline

If Cecil Brown were thirty years old today he would be living in Beirut, or possibly in Tehran on a forged Canadian passport. One way or another he would be getting the news out to the world, the kind of objective news the world needs to evaluate situations and make rational decisions.

Long before Pearl Harbor this giant among journalists knew where the action was, where the decisions were being made, and from where the alarms needed to be sounded. He had a feel for the past, was totally in touch with the present, and saw more clearly than most what the future held for mankind. From Suez to Singapore he called the shots as he saw them.

I don't know enough about Cecil Brown's formative years to determine what the forces were which helped shape his career. I do know something of the end product. Cecil Brown was a remarkable journalist, a gifted commentator on world events, and ultimately a knowledgeable, effective, and kindly professor.

In 1938, while still in high school, I won an essay contest sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. It was a masterpiece of isolationism and obviously just what the Kiwanians wanted to hear. Shortly after that time I began to listen to radio commentators like Cecil Brown, H. V. Kaltenborn, Elmer Davis, Edward R. Murrow, and others and realized how wrong I had been. These men knew that we were living in a world where we could no longer regard Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo as characters in a comic opera. When the cataclysm of World War II finally involved the United States they went right on reporting and interpreting. Never was there an expressed doubt on the war's final outcome. Listening to Cecil Brown 5 broadcasts, even in the grimmest of times, was always a morale booster. He gave us the facts and the necessary background to interpret them and to see them in a world perspective. His confident and well-modulated voice was reassuring.

Cecil Brown's wartime career was well described in the Los Angeles Times obituary and we need not dwell on it here. He always seemed to know where the action was and somehow managed to get to the scene beforehand. He was absolutely fearless, even after having a British warship shot out from under him.

During the Cold War years, including the eras of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Cecil's broadcasts from the Far East and from the studios of KCET in Los Angeles were always perceptive and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, the era of the broadly experienced commentator gave way to the voices of the vacuous news reporters we see on our boob tubes today, people barely intelligent enough to read the script put before them. We can but hope that the pendulum will swing the other way some time.

I was thrilled when I first learned that Cecil Brown was coming to Cal Poly to teach in our old English department, which included journalism at that time. I was delighted to see his talents and vast experience brought to bear on the development of our multi-media journalism program. After he was on campus for a while and increasingly involved in the electronic media, he indicated in lunchroom conversation that the students he encountered were woefully lacking in background of national and world affairs. It occurred to me that we were not using his talents to the fullest. I finally got up enough courage to go to Dean of Arts A.J. Aschenbrenner and tell him point blank that Cecil Brown could do more for our students if he were teaching in the area of the Social Sciences. Our second quarter of American Civilization stresses the United States' role in world affairs, and who better could make the necessary assessments and make it all come alive than Cecil Brown? The Dean agreed. And so did Cecil.

In the years ahead Cecil Brown taught in both the Social Sciences and Communication Arts departments, and with distinction. He was voted an Outstanding Professor in 1980, an achievement that pleased him more, I believe, than his star that is embedded in the cement of Hollywood Boulevard's famous Walk of Fame.

In addition to heaping praise on the memory of a man whose career speaks for itself, I want to insert a few words of praise about the institution that provided him with a classroom, eager students, and a speaker's stand. Cal Poly was big enough an institution, and sure enough of itself in a sea of academic alligators, that it could hire a professor for what he was. Cecil Brown did not have a doctorate. I don't believe he even had a Master's degree. He did have a Bachelor's degree, but it wasn't in history, political science, international relations, or even journalism. It was in the seemingly unrelated field of Business Administration. Cecil Brown established his career in the Great Depression when people had to prove their mettle and their versatility out in the field, and where survival of the fittest was more than Darwinian theory. It is my fond hope that Cal Poly will keep open its doors to future Cecil Browns, if any can be found. We need bookish people and we need computer jockeys, but we also need people like Cecil Brown, who knew the world as it is, and from the vantage point of one who has been there, the actual scene where history was made.

On the battlefront and in the classroom Cecil Brown instinctively knew the paramount importance of objectivity. He never forgot a journalist's five W's - who, what, when, where, and why. It was with the last one that he excelled, something that his students picked up on and for which they tendered him their greatest respect.

Cecil Brown will be missed by all of us who knew him. He helped make this institution what it is today.

Cecil Brown as Teacher: Naomi Kirschenbaum

Cecil Brown's life, as it seemed to me when I was a college Freshman, was every young person's romantic dream.

As I studied with him the events of the twentieth century I came to realize that he had not only known the people and participated in the events, but he had developed careful and thoughtful insights that I found extraordinarily valuable.

The romance has never ended. But, while he led an exciting life and told us about some of it, he taught me that what we see and do was not to be passively experienced, but as he did, we should strive to internalize and understand those experiences so that they lead us to a clearer vision of the world. It is not enough to learn; we must make what we learn what we are. No one I've ever known did that better than Cecil Brown.

He was also wise. Amused at my youthful naivete he nonetheless maintained a sincere respect for my earnestness. He reminded me of the courage required to propound beliefs and values; he reminded me that dialogue and discourse are the cornerstones of civilization; and he gently insisted that respect for learning and thoughtful insight lead to the soundest judgements.

These are qualities I'm certain most of his students will carry with them forever. And the world will be richer.

Cecil Brown, Colleague: David L. Levering

I shall never forget that Fall School of Arts meeting almost two decades ago, sitting in the theatre listening to the introductions of new faculty members. When the tail, imposing figure stood and was introduced as former broadcaster Cecil Brown I recall whispering to the person sitting next to me: "My God, I thought he was in Hong Kong."

Clearly, he was not in Hong Kong, but in Pomona; just as clearly, he was not an ordinary academic. Academics are like performers in that they must constantly trade on their personalities. Oh sure, there are publications and reputation, but in the classroom and the lunchroom the encounters are personal. Indeed there are perhaps fewer activities more intensely personal than teaching.

Because of the importance of personal encounter, it is perhaps no wonder that insecurity hedges our collective existence. It is never possible to reach every student - some days it seems impossible to reach any students. And colleagues, no matter how much opportunity they have, persist in seeing the world differently from one's own perspective. What does that say about us? Are they all - students and colleagues - just hopelessly obtuse or is it that we have failed to bring them along from the darkness of ignorance into the light? Crises of identity and personal insecurity are occupational diseases in academia.

But not for Cecil Brown. I can think of few people that I have known who have had clearer notions of who they were and who had more fully accepted the consequences of that knowledge. It is a condition called integrity. It is a condition that predisposes its carrier to also accept others as they are, to find no reason to pull rank, or impose credentials. I am not suggesting that in accepting others, Cecil felt obligated to endorse or agree with their ideas - one of the problems with people of integrity is that they are inclined to stubbornness -but one always felt, in a discussion with Cecil, that he was listening and was willing to take the argument seriously.

He was, without question, the youngest 70 year old man I ever met. "Come on you guys," he use to admonish the members of the TV discussion panels he produced when we tended to pontificate, "cut the lectures, this isn't the classroom, this is show biz."

Like some of the other ancient folks here, I first heard Cecil Brown when he was part of that extraordinary reportorial team that invented electronic journalism. As the clouds of war gathered over Europe, Edward R. Murrow put together a staff of correspondents never to be forgotten and not yet equaled: William L. Shirer in Berlin; Eric Sevareid in Paris, Mary Marvin Breckenridge in Amsterdam, and Cecil Brown broadcasting from Rome. It is difficult to recall now, surrounded as we are by the "happy news" people, how passionate and committed were those inventors of the art. A quotation from Cecil's wartime memoir Suez to Singapore brings it back:

I report. . . with the greatest objectivity there is in me, the deeds of the men who are fighting and guiding this war, as I found them before, during and after battle. . . I am against blunderers. Armies don't blunder their way to victory. The mistakes which cost the lives of so many men and women and the fierce determination that nothing and no one shall stand in the way of victory compel me to submit this report to the people.

In 1943, there was a shake-up at CBS News. As A.M. Sperber tells it in her marvelous biography of Murrow, Paul Klauber, the old newspaperman who had founded the news division, was pushed aside in favor of a new constellation that was forming at the top, rooted in sales promotion and market research. It was a constellation that had difficulty with the kind of unvarnished reporting that was Cecil's stock in trade. When, as Drew Pearson observed, Cecil told "some unpleasant truths about the conduct of the war," CBS became timid and accused him of "editorializing" and "defeatism." Unhappy about the effort to gag him, Cecil Brown quit the network in protest. And through many subsequent years, when ethical crises loomed, Murrow, Shirer and the others had occasion to recall that act of courage - characteristic of those stricken with integrity.

Of course, Cecil went on to complete a long career on other networks - both radio and television - before beginning his second career at Cal Poly. Not only did he prove a gifted teacher of university students and a stimulating colleague; he was also a willing and enthusiastic TV producer and coach of amateur pundits. He didn't put us down, he showed us how. We were thus twice blessed, the beneficiaries of both careers. And for that, I know you will join me in saying: Thanks, Cecil: it was a great show.