Rich Brenner Memorial Service Script

For those of you who were unable to attend or watch the Rich Brenner “Celebration of Life” Service Saturday March 3, below is the text I wrote and used as moderator of the event:

RICH BRENNER “CELEBRATION OF LIFE” SERVICE

MARCH 3, 2012 AYCOCK AUDITORIUM UNC-GREENSBORO

INVOCATION: Pastor Chris Thore/Jamestown United Methodist Church

INTRODUCTION:

LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, PLEASE RISE AS THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS HONOR GUARD COMES FORWARD TO PRESENT THE COLORS.

COLOR PRESENTATION:  US Marine Corps Honor Guard

THANK YOU. YOU MAY BE SEATED.

GOOD AFTERNOON. AND WELCOME TO THIS CELEBRATION OF LIFE HONORING OUR BELOVED FRIEND RICHARD DENNIS BRENNER. WE ALSO WELCOME THOSE OF YOU ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND MAYBE EVEN THE WORLD WATCHING US LIVE ON THE WGHP INTERNET STREAM.

MY NAME IS NEILL MCNEILL. I’M ONE OF THE NEWS ANCHORS AT WGHP WHO WORKED WITH RICH FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS.

RICH WAS MORE THAN A COLLEAGUE. HE WAS MY FRIEND. HE WAS THE BEST FRIEND ANYONE COULD HAVE.

THERE AREN’T MANY THINGS I CAN ADD TO WHAT MOST OF YOU HAVE ALREADY MENTIONED SO ELOQUENTLY IN THE MANY ARTICLES, FACEBOOK STATUS UPDATES, COMMENTS, WALL POSTINGS, AND TWEETS PUBLISHED AND POSTED OVER THE LAST FIVE DAYS.

RICH HAD A UNIQUE AND DEEPLY PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH PERSON IN THIS ROOM.  AND TODAY—AS WE CELEBRATE HIS LIFE—RICH WOULD WANT US CONTINUE TO UPHOLD THE PRINCIPLES ABOUT WHICH HE WAS SO PASSIONATE.

AH… PASSION. EVERYONE MENTIONS THIS WHEN DESCRIBING RICH.

RICH WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT–AMONG MANY OTHER THINGS— PEOPLE, HIS PROFESSION, SPORTS, POLITICS, CHARITIES, FIRST RESPONDERS, THE MILITARY,  AND HIS FAMILY.   OH, HOW HE LOVED JUDY, SHAUN, AND LESLIE. AND WASN’T IT NEAT TO WATCH THE JOY HE RECEIVED FROM LOVING AND BEING WITH HIS GRANDCHILDREN, TANNER AND CARSON, OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS.

YES—RICH HAD TROUBLE CONTROLLING HIS PASSION SOMETIMES. WE ALL KNOW HE WAS STUBBORN, OPINIONATED, IMPATIENT, AND EASILY FRUSTRATED (ESPECIALLY WHEN IT INVOLVED THOSE WHO DIDN’T LIVE UP TO HIS HIGH STANDARDS).

BUT NO ONE—NO ONE—CHANNELED HIS PASSIONS IN A MORE POSITIVE AND INFLUENTIAL WAY THAN RICH BRENNER.  FOR ME, HE DID IT IN FOUR WAYS THAT HAVE HAD AND CONTINUE TO HAVE A PROFOUND INFLUENCE ON MY LIFE. I’LL SHARE THOSE BRIEFLY DURING THE COURSE OF THIS CELEBRATION

YOU WILL ALSO HEAR FROM SIX PEOPLE WHOSE LIVES RICH TOUCHED IN VERY SPECIAL AND UNIQUE WAYS. AND IT’S MY HONOR TO INTRODUCE TWO OF THOSE PEOPLE NOW:

WGHP SPORTS ANCHOR KEVIN CONNOLLY.  AND RICH’S BELOVED YOUNGER  BROTHER FROM NEW YORK—RETIRED EASTMAN KODAK EXECUTIVE BARRY BRENNER.

KEVIN CONNOLLY

BARRY BRENNER

HAVING FUN

OPEN ON A SHOT OF A COURTROOM. RICH BRENNER IS STANDING IN FRONT OF A JUDGE. THE JUDGE ASKS, “MR. BRENNER, IS IT TRUE THAT FOX 8 WILL COVER THE STANLEY CUP FINAL, THE WORLD SERIES, AND SUPER BOWL 31, ALL WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR?” “YES SIR,” RICH REPLIES. “WELL, MR. BRENNER WHY IS FOX 8 FOCUSING SO MUCH ATTENTION TOWARDS SPORTS?” RICH SHRUGS AND SAYS… “AHH… FOR THE FUN OF IT?” AND THEN THE LOUD FUNKY MUSIC STARTS BLASTING AND AND EVERYONE IN THE COURTROOM STARTS DANCING TO THIS SONG WHOSE LYRICS CONSIST OF THE WORDS “JUST FOR THE FUN OF IT.”

THAT WGHP PROMO FROM THE MID-TO-LATE 1990S —ILLUSTRATES A WAY RICH CHANNELED HIS PASSIONS.  HE WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT HAVING FUN. IT WAS WHAT SPORTS WAS ALL ABOUT AND RICH KNEW SPORTS—ON MANY LEVELS–IMITATES LIFE. RICH NEVER MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE OR PRODUCE A GOOD LAUGH.  HE LOVED MIMICKING THE VOICES AND MANNERISMS OF OTHERS–BE IT RICHARD PETTY’S “HEY GUY” OR FRED BLACKMAN’S “TENNIS GREAT MONICA SELLS” OR A FORMER NEWS DIRECTOR WHO LOVED TO EAT, “HELLO NEILL, DO YOU LIKE FOOD? TASTE THE CHEESECAKE AT THE END OF THE BUFFET LINE, IT’S DELICIOUS.” RICH DID ALL OF THIS IN A FUNNY, YET RESPECTFUL WAY. NO ONE COULD LAUGH HARDER OR HAVE MORE OF A GOOD TIME THAN RICH. FOR RICH–HAVING FUN–WAS A PASSION.

THE TWO PERFORMERS YOU’RE ABOUT TO HEAR KNOW ALL ABOUT HAVING FUN. THEY HAVE FUN SPREADING OUR CREATOR’S GOOD NEWS. SINGING ONE OF THE SONGS TITLED “KNOWING YOU’LL BE THERE” OFF THEIR NEW ALBUM, FROM LEXINGTON NORTH CAROLINA—THE PREMIERE FATHER-SON DUO OF SOUTHERN GOSPEL MUSIC–TIM AND TIMMY LEBEAU… THE LEBEAUS.

“KNOWING YOU’LL BE THERE:” THE LEBEAUS

BEING IN TOUCH

“ALL RIGHT, STOP. COLLABORATE AND LISTEN. ICE IS BACK WITH A BRAND NEW INVENTION. SOME-THING GRABS A HOLD OF ME TIGHTLY. FLOW LIKE A HARPOON, DAILY AND NIGHTLY. WILL IT EVER STOP? YO, I DON’T KNOW. TURN OFF THE LIGHTS AND I’LL GLOW. IF THERE WAS A PROBLEM, YO, I’LL SOLVE IT. CHECK OUT THE HOOK WHILE MY D-J REVOLVES IT.”

THAT MARVELOUS PIECE OF WORK FROM RAP ARTIST ROBBIE VAN WINKLE–BETTER KNOWN AS VANILLA ICE–HELD A SPECIAL PLACE IN RICH’S MIND. WHY? I HAVE NO EARTHLY IDEA. I DO KNOW HE COULD RECITE ALL THE LYRICS TO IT PERFECTLY. HE COULD ALSO GET THRU MOST OF THE LYRICS OF YOUNG M-C’S “BUST A MOVE.”

RICH BRENNER HAD THE MOST BRILLIANT MIND OF ANYONE I’VE EVER KNOWN. NOT ONLY COULD HE RECALL RAP LYRICS–BUT WHEN I NEEDED A FOOTBALL SCORE FROM 30 YEARS AGO TO PUT INTO A SCRIPT, I’D CALL RICH UP. HE WOULDN’T ONLY GIVE ME THE SCORE–HE’D MENTION THE NAMES OF THE TWO QUARTERBACKS, THEIR COMPLETION PERCENTAGES AND THE TWO HEAD COACHES. HE HAD PICTURE-PERFECT MEMORY.

HE ALSO RECOGNIZED HE HAD THIS GOD-GIVEN GIFT AND PUT IT –TOGETHER WITH A KEEN SENSE OF CURIOUSOTY— TO GOOD USE. HE CHANNELLED HIMSELF–PASSIONATELY—TO KEEP UP WITH PEOPLE, CURRENT EVENTS AND POP CULTURE,  TO READ, TO LEARN NEW THINGS, TO ASK QUESTIONS. HE KEPT HIMSELF  UP TO DATE WITH THE WORLD AROUND HIM. HE WAS–IN MANY WAYS–THE PERFECT JOURNALIST. IT ALSO HELPED RICH  BE AT HIS BEST WHEN THE TELEPROMPTER WOULD GO DOWN AND HE WAS FORCED TO SHARE WHAT WAS IN THAT BEAUTIFUL MIND. RICH WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT STAYING “IN TOUCH.”

OUR NEXT TWO SPEAKERS ARE ALSO SPECIALISTS WHEN IT COMES TO STAYING “IN TOUCH”—-

DISTINGUISHED PIEDMONT-TRIAD AUTHOR AND BROADCAST JOURNALIST (AND MY CORMER CO-ANCHOR) CAROL ANDREWS….

AND THE SHERIFF OF GUILFORD COUNTY, THE HONORABLE B-J BARNES.

CAROL ANDREWS

SHERIFF B.J. BARNES

TEACHING

MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO, THERE WAS A YOUNG MAN IN HIGH SCHOOL GROWING UP IN A SMALL TOWN IN SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA. EVERY NIGHT AT SIX O’CLOCK HIS FAMILY WOULD TURN ON THE 6:00 NEWSCAST FROM WRAL-TV IN RALEIGH. THIS YOUNG MAN DEVELOPED AN  ATTACHMENT TO THE ANCHOR TEAM ON THAT BROADCAST. HE SAW HOW THAT TEAM EMBRACED THE IMMEDIACY OF THE MEDIUM, PROVIDED A PUBLIC SERVICE, AND DEVELOPED A CHEMISTRY BETWEEN ONE ANOTHER THAT WAS UNMATCHED. THE MAN WHO SAT ON THE FAR LEFT SIDE OF WRAL’S NEWS SET WAS RICH BRENNER. TODAY, YOU ARE LOOKING AT A MUCH OLDER VERSION OF THE YOUNG MAN IN SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA WATCHING AT HOME. YOU SEE, RICH BRENNER WAS A KEY PART OF THE TEAM THAT INFLUENCED ME TO GET INTO THIS BUSINESS. RICH WAS TEACHING ME–AND HE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT.

RICH–WAS A TEACHER. NEVER DID HE PASS UP AN OPPORTUNITY TO HELP AN INTERN, A YOUNGER CO-WORKER, OR OFFER AN ENCOURAGING WORD. NEVER, NEVER DID HE TURN DOWN AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK AT A DARE GRADUATION OR A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION. WHY? BECAUSE HE RECOGNIZED THE IMPORTANCE OF INFLUENCING LIVES. RICH HAD A PASSION FOR TEACHING.

THIS PASSION ALSO MADE RICH A PIONEER IN NORTH CAROLINA WHEN IT CAME TO SPORTS ON LOCAL TELEVISION. YOU SEE BEFORE HE ARRIVED ON THE SCENE–SPORTS WAS PRESENTED RATHER SLOWLY AND METHODICALLY. RICH—PUSHED THE ACCELERATOR, COMBINED A LOT OF VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS WITH A FAST-PACE DELIVERY AND MADE IT EXCITING TO WATCH. SPORTS JOURNALISTS ACROSS THE STATE COPIED THAT STYLE. BUT HE ALSO KNEW WHEN TO SLOW IT DOWN TO GET THE BEST EMOTIONAL EFFECT.

CASE IN POINT—IN THE DAYS AFTER DALE EARNHARDT DIED, RICH PRODUCED A BIOGRAPHICAL PIECE ON EARNHARDT THAT INCLUDED THE SONG YOU’RE ABOUT TO HEAR.

TO SING IT FOR US NOW—PIEDMONT-TRIAD  WRITER, BROADCAST JOURNALIST, AND ONE OF THE NATION’S LEADING ADVOCATES FOR FAMILIES AND PATIENTS DEALING WITH CANCER— CARON MYERS.

CARON MYERS: “DON’T CRY.”

OTHERS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OURSELVES

WE MAKE A LIVING BY WHAT WE GET. WE MAKE A LIFE BY WHAT WE GIVE.” RICH WAS A DISCIPLE OF WINSTON CHURCHILL. AND THERE’S NO DOUBT HE LIVED THAT CHURCHILL QUOTE.

CHRISTMAS EVE 1995. MY WIFE AND I WERE ABOUT TO PUT OUR TWO-AND-A-HALF YEAR OLD DAUGHTER TO BED. SUDDENDLY, THERE WAS A KNOCK ON THE DOOR. I OPENED IT–AND THERE STOOD RICH BRENNER AS SANTA CLAUSE AND JUDY DRESSED AS MRS. CLAUS. THEY CAME IN, SAT DOWN, GAVE OUR DAUGHTER A GIFT. AND ALTHOUGH OUR CHILD WAS A LITTLE FRIGHTENED AT THE MAN IN THE RED SUIT—I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT MOMENT.  RICH BRENNER DID THAT WITH MOST IF NOT ALL OF THE YOUNG WGHP FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN WHEN HE COULD HAVE BEEN SPENDING CHRISTMAS EVE RELAXING WITH HIS OWN FAMILY. 

THAT’S BECAUSE TO RICH–OTHERS WERE MORE IMPORTANT THAN HE WAS TO HIMSELF. IT WAS PROBABLY THE MOST ENDEARING WAY RICH CHANNELED HIS PASSIONS. IF YOU HAD RICH’S ATTENTION–YOU HAD HIS ENTIRE ATTENTION. HE WAS AMONG THE BEST AT LISTENING.

HE’D FRUSTRATE PRODUCERS AND DIRECTORS RUNNING TO THE SET LATE BEFORE SPORTS WOULD START—USUALLY BECAUSE HE WAS SPENDING TIME WITH A VIEWER ON THE PHONE. IF YOU WERE A FRIEND OF RICH’S ON FACEBOOK–YOU GOT A PERSONAL NOTE ON YOUR BIRTHDAY. AND RICH HAD NEARLY FIVE THOUSAND FACEBOOK FRIENDS. HIS FAMILY’S JOKED AROUND IN RECENT DAYS THAT RICH HASN’T QUITE ENTERED THE PEARLY GATES YET BECAUSE HE’S STILL SPEAKING TO THOSE WAITING OUTSIDE.

HE’D SPEAK OFTEN OF THE FACT THE SPORTS FIGURES HE ADMIRED THE MOST—RICHARD PETTY AND ARNOLD PALMER–AMONG OTHERS—WERE THE ONES WHO CHECKED THEIR EGOS AT THE DOOR AND WENT OUT OF THEIR WAY TO SIGN AUTOGRAPHS AND SPEAK TO YOUNG PEOPLE.

RICH WAS PROBABLY ONE OF ONLY TWO OR THREE FRIENDS OF MINE I KNOW I COULD CALL ANYTIME OF DAY IF I NEEDED HIM AND HE WOULD STOP WHATEVER HE WAS DOING TO BE THERE FOR ME. RICH WAS THE FIRST PERSON FROM FOX 8 IN THE VISITATION LINE AFTER MY FATHER PASSED AWAY FOUR-AND-A-HALF YEARS AGO. I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT.

RICH BRENNER MAY HAVE HAD A WEAKENED PHYSICAL HEART DURING THE LAST FEW YEARS. BUT YOU WOULD NOT FIND A STRONGER SPIRITUAL HEART. HE CHANNELED HIS PASSION INTO GIVING AND SERVING.  HE  ALSO HAD A SPECIAL LOVE FOR THOSE WHO DID THE SAME–ESPECIALLY  FIRST RESPONDERS AND MEMBERS OF THE MILITARY. THAT’S WHY THERE’S A GREAT MILITARY-FIRST RESPONDER PRESENCE HERE TODAY. AND THIS INCLUDES OUR NEXT TWO SPEAKERS.

BOTH ARE UNITED STATES MARINES: THE ASSISTANT CHIEF AND SAFETY OFFICER OF THE GREENSBORO FIRE DEPARTMENT SKIP NIX  AND DISTINGUISHED JOURNALIST, WRITER, PRODUCER AND PRESIDENT OF THE HIGH POINT COMMUNITY FOUNDATION PAUL LESSARD.

SKIP NIX

PAUL LESSARD

SO THIS IS HOW RICH BRENNER LIVED. AND THIS IS WHAT HE LEAVES US. THE FINAL PARAGRAPHS OF ONE OF THE MOST WELL-KNOWN  EULOGIES EVER DELIVERED APPLY TO HIM:

“HE NEED NOT BE IDEALIZED, OR ENLARGED IN DEATH BEYOND WHAT HE WAS IN LIFE. HE WAS A GOOD AND DECENT MAN WHO SAW WRONG AND TRIED TO RIGHT IT, SAW SUFFERING AND TRIED TO HEAL IT, SAW WAR AND TRIED TO STOP IT.

THOSE OF US WHO LOVED HIM AND WHO TAKE HIM TO HIS REST TODAY, PRAY THAT WHAT HE WAS TO US AND WHAT HE WISHED FOR OTHERS WILL SOME DAY COME TO PASS FOR ALL THE WORLD.”

SO–LET’S PUT OTHERS AHEAD OF OURSELVES, LET’S STAY IN TOUCH, LET’S TEACH, AND–LAST BUT NOT LEAST… LET’S HAVE SOME FUN.  RICH WILL BE DISAPPOINTED IN US IF WE DON’T AND BELIEVE ME–HE’LL LET US KNOW ABOUT IT ONE DAY.

RICH BRENNER WAS MY FRIEND. HE WAS THE BEST FRIEND ANYONE COULD HAVE.

MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY WOULD LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE THEY’LL BE IN THE AUDITORIUM’S LOWER LOBBY AFTER THE LEBEAUS SING ONE LAST PIECE AND REVEREND THOR GIVES THE BENEDITION.

THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE, AND MAY GOD CONTINUE TO BLESS ALL OF US THROUGH THE LIFE OF RICH BRENNER.

——–



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