Rich Brenner, the face of sports at FOX8 for nearly 21 years, died on Monday night after suffering a heart attack while attending the American Red Cross Salute to Heroes event in Greensboro.
Brenner was 65-years-old.
Rich, who covered everything from NASCAR and the Panthers to the ACC and high school sports, joined FOX8 in 1987. He retired in April 2008.
“Rich loved to salute the military. He loved to salute first responders. Anyone that went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Kevin Connolly. “It wasn’t a shock he was at this particular function.”
Kevin Connolly, who worked with Brenner since 1987, remembers first meeting Rich when he was an intern at FOX8.
“I first met Rich back in the spring/summer of 1987. I was a college senior at the time. Rich had just started working here and I was an intern under the previous sports anchor,” said Kevin Connolly. “Then I ended up working with him for 21 years.”
Connolly said Brenner was an icon in broadcasting and never missed an opportunity to help someone else.
“First and foremost Rich Brenner was a teacher… and he never let a teachable moment go by. I wish I knew the number of kids that came through college that did internships under Rich that went on in this business… probably approaching 200 students. He was passionate about this business and wanted to pass along his knowledge to the next generation of broadcasters,” said Kevin Connolly.
Longtime FOX8 anchor Fred Blackman remembers the time Rich spent mentoring and helping interns. He added Rich’s commitment to people went beyond the newsroom and into the community.
Fred said it was Rich’s ability to relate to people that made him a great person.
“Rich used to like to keep things light in the newsroom. The atmosphere in the newsroom can sometimes be tense and charged, and he’d stand up and say, ‘Hey guys, relax. It’s not brain surgery. It’s only television,'” Fred said.
FOX8 Anchor Neill McNeill said Brenner was more than a co-worker, a colleague and a sports anchor. He was a friend.
“Rich, first and foremost, was a friend. He was the type of friend who I knew I could call and he would be there. My father passed away suddenly in 2007. Rich was the first person from FOX8 in line at the visitation,” said McNeill.
Connolly said Brenner was there for him as well when his mother passed away.
“My entire family is still in Maryland. I was at the funeral home… and Rich walks through the door,” said Connolly.
FOX8 Meteorologist Van Denton remembers when he joined WGHP in 1990 and how he was starstruck the first time he worked with Brenner.
“When I came here in 1990 that I was actually shocked I would sit on the same news set as Rich Brenner… someone I watched as a kid,” said Denton.
Neill McNeill credits Brenner for being a big part of his decision to work in news.
“I watched Rich in junior high school and high school. He was a major influence on me deciding to get in this business,” said McNeill. “I can truthfully say, Rich Brenner is one of the top-three most brilliant people I have ever met. If I wanted to know a NFL score from 20 years ago… he would know it.”
McNeill said he always appreciated how Rich held in high regard sports figures who put fans first.
“He had several examples. Arnold Palmer. Richard Petty. Sports figures who went out of their way to reach out to the fans and sign autographs,” said McNeill.
McNeill also talked about how Brenner expected excellence from his friends, co-workers, managers and himself.
“I often told Rich ‘You’re too passionate’ because no one else could live up to your standards. He always had that passion… always had that drive,” said McNeill.
Kevin Connolly said his passion came out of a desire to get the story right.
“The number one thing was he wanted to win. He wanted to get the story. And he wanted to get the story right. There was always a way or method to go about getting the story and winning the story. That’s where a lot of his passion came out,” said Connolly.
Connolly talked about how Rich was so happy with retirement because he was a grandfather.
“He absolutely loved spending time with both his grandsons Tanner and Carson,” said Connolly.
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