As I was working from home Friday, I took a moment to glance at Facebook notifications. I had spent much of the afternoon editing a long, sad narrative for The Dallas Morning News about a young African-American man from West Dallas who had been killed a couple of months ago, a tragic end to a life of hardship that had begun to show promise before he was struck down trying to rescue his mother from the drug house she was living in.
When I looked down the list of notifications, I saw something had been posted on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Friends group by my old friend and colleague Clarence E. Hill Jr., longtime Cowboys beat writer for the S-T, and I could’ve sworn the tiny post image looked like another friend and old S-T colleague. The small name was hard to make out without calling up the post, but sure looked like his: Roger B. Brown. It appeared to be a flier.
Right away, I had a very bad feeling. I hoped it was something about a speaking engagement, because “B,” or “Roger B,” as all of us who worked with him for so many years in the S-T sports department knew him, is known and admired far and nationwide, so that would sure be a possibility. B used to have a long-running radio sports talk show in Dallas, so CHill was probably just posting a notice about an appearance B would be making in the coming days. That was my hope.
But I knew better. It had to be bad news. As it turns out, B had left this world four days earlier, but I hadn’t been on FB enough lately to see the many posts, tributes, farewells and tears that had poured out for him from all over Dallas-Fort Worth, the state and the country.
I pulled up CHill’s post and stared at the flier in disbelief, saying over and over: “What? What? What?” It was an announcement of a Zoom tribute planned for this morning. “Join us for a Celebration of Life Honoring Roger B. Brown,” it read. “Sunrise May 15, 1959. Sunset May 18, 2020.”
As in the story I had been editing when I jumped over to FB and saw this shockingly sad news — although under entirely different circumstances — a beloved black man had been taken home when he still had so much more to do here and so many more lives to impact.
I read through the comments on that post and the one CHill had posted the day of B’s passing. I went to B’s sister Alicia’s page and looked through numerous posts there. It had really happened. He’d had a stroke recently, but was fighting his way back, pushing through rehab. Celebrated his 61st birthday on May 15.
Then, three days later, the great Roger B. Brown, the pride of Columbus, Mississippi, was gone.
Roger B and I, just a couple of years apart in age, both arrived at the Star-Telegram in 1987. I actually spent my first few months in the features department, editing copy and designing pages before I was recruited by sports editor Bruce Raben to join his copy desk. One of the paper’s crack high school reporters was none other than B, a funny, always upbeat, hard-working guy who had a great way with coaches and athletes. He could always get an interview, a quote, a scoop, whatever he needed because they all trusted him and he was everybody’s homeboy.
I had no idea when I joined the sports staff that B was the first African-American to be a full-time sports writer at the Star-Telegram, and I shouldn’t have to tell you how big a deal that was. Like several who honored him at today’s Zoom tribute said, he carved out a path that allowed so many others to follow. B went on to cover high schools for several years at the S-T before getting his big shot, taking on a pro beat covering the Dallas Mavericks. In his 15 years at the paper, Roger B came to know everyone and everyone — from Magic to Barkley to Jordan and more — knew him and loved him. And respected him.
There are a lot of things I’ll always remember about B, not only while working with him but being friends with him. He always had time to talk to people. He was always friendly, always optimistic, laid-back, gregarious and funny. He loved to laugh and make others laugh. I probably edited hundreds of his stories, and those of us on the desk knew that when the phone rang at 817-390-7760 at night, it was either someone calling in a high school score — or one of our reporters calling in his or her story. “This is Roger B,” or “This is B,” he’d say in his Mississippi drawl. “Got a story in there,” meaning he’d filed one remotely by computer and we needed to check to make sure it had arrived.
B, God bless him, was always known for filing late and filing too long to fill the space we had “dummied” in the sports section for him, so we often had to whack his stories down to size. Yeah, he complained some, but he also knew we worked our butts off to put out a sports section every night and didn’t make too much of it.
I also remember what a huge LA sports fan Roger B was — he loved him some Lakers and Dodgers. Speaking of the Dodgers, B came up with a nickname for me — Stubbs, for former Dodger (and short-lived Astro) Franklin Stubbs. For some reason, Roger just decided to start calling me that and it stuck.
We played basketball together, teaming up in 1988 with S-T colleagues Tim Madigan and Roger Campbell in a 3-on-3 tournament and ended up getting to the championship game, thanks to B’s shooting and Tim’s rebounding and toughness. Back in the day in Mississippi and at Tougaloo College, B was a pretty darn solid athlete in basketball and baseball. He played some on our S-T softball team called the RATS, too — that’s Star spelled backward. But we never knew when he was going to come to a game. He’d just sorta show up.
As for that radio show, B started that uber-popular side gig on KKDA-AM in Dallas in 1990, and “Talking Sports With Roger B. Brown” was a mainstay for more than two decades. He’d have local sports figures, celebrities, politicians — even his mother, a longtime English teacher — as guests. I only heard it a couple of times, but his sister says their mom would correct B’s grammar on the air when necessary.
In more recent years, Roger B worked for the Dallas Parks and Rec Department as a youth league developer/coordinator. He has three grown children, all of whom spoke at this morning’s celebration, which I watched on Zoom before my Saturday editing shift. It was a wonderful sharing of memories, tributes and honor for one hell of a guy who should still be with us. I’m shocked he’s not.
I last spoke with B about six years ago when I was organizing a reunion lunch for Bill “Bullet” Ramsey, a former S-T colleague of ours, and we were able to catch up a bit. I feel awful that, after having his number in my cell all this time, I hadn’t connected with him since.
It won’t be the same here without you, but we’ll all see you again, Mississippi Homeboy.