- Campus Life
By Mary Ellen Lowney
Back in the day when Garry Brown attended American International College, classroom seating was assigned by professors - with students lined up in alphabetical order, by their last names.
But Brown, known across Western Massachusetts as The Springfield Republican sportswriter extraordinaire, isn't complaining about the strict rules of yore. In fact, he's thrilled to recount the stories from the late 1940s, when he was occasionally instructed to sit next to a pretty blonde who later became his wife.
"We sat side by side in two classes, and now we've been married for 55 years. You can't beat that," said Brown, now 76 and still working full-time as a sports writer and columnist.
Brown, who's been at The Republican the past 57 years and seen many changes in the industry, including three name changes for the newspaper, is best known to many as the author of the weekly 'Hitting to All Fields.' The quirky Wednesday column is as likely to include his thoughts on the Springfield Falcons and the Boston Red Sox as on Venus, his son's black Labrador retriever, and the latest Bob Dylan news.
And readers are well aware of his love of AIC, particularly on the playing field. He devoted an entire column late last fall to women's basketball coach Kristen Patterson, herself an AIC alum, after a key victory by her team.
"I'll always love AIC. That's just the way it is," he said.
Brown graduated in 1955 with a degree in English. He looks back warmly on his days of higher learning, saying he's thankful for meeting Mary Bukowski, now Mary Brown, and the many professors who made his time more than worthwhile. They include Dr. Milton Birnbaum, and William Duffy, teachers of English.
Though Mary Brown didn't graduate from AIC, she feels as comfortable on the campus as does her husband. In fact, two of their three children have degrees from AIC. Melissa earned a degree in English in 1976, and Peter graduated in 1984 with a degree in general studies. Son Paul earned his degree from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.
Mary eventually earned a medical technology degree at Springfield Technical Community College, adding over the years many courses at AIC as well as at other local colleges.
"We're definitely an AIC family," Garry Brown joked on a recent visit to the campus.
For Garry Brown, it all began in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield, where his father, the late Jerry Brown, was the assistant postmaster. The senior Brown was also the Indian Orchard correspondent for the former Springfield Daily News, covering neighborhood events, industrial baseball games, and, of all things, wedding announcements.
"We must have gone to every Polish wedding there was back then," he said with a laugh. "We'd get invited to all of them. Everybody knew my father."
Brown, the youngest of four, watched his father type his stories on an old Underwood manual that clacked as he hit the keys. He often made the trip downtown to Cypress Street - "we used to say we were going downstreet" - to deliver his weekly copy to the newspaper.
"He taught me everything he did. I knew how to keep score of games, and I loved going with him to the old newspaper building," he said.
Brown was a senior at the old Technical High School, when AIC senior Joseph Quinlan visited to pitch the college life, mentioning that there were 10 academic scholarships available for the upcoming year.
An outstanding student, Brown applied for one and got it, starting in the fall of 1949.
Right away, he signed up to cover sports for the Yellow Jacket, and worked alongside several other students who would later be his professional colleagues at the Springfield Morning Union. They included Stan Berchulski, who was YJ editor-in-chief, Mark Feinberg, who later became a political consultant, Jerry Finn, who was YJ sports editor, Jerry Radding, who was YJ features editor, and Joe Napolitan, who eventually launched an international political consulting firm.
Fate stepped in for Brown in 1950, when he landed a full-time job as a sports writer at the Morning Union, which later merged with The Daily News to become The Union-News, eventually renamed The Republican.
He left school, figuring that was that.
But two people urged him back to school. One was Mary, who he was by then his wife, and the other, Napolitan, who was juggling full-time work and full-time school, and pushed Brown to do the same.
"I figured if Joe Napolitan could do it, so could I," he said, and he was back in classes in the fall of 1952. While she wasn't formally in school, Mary frequently helped him with typing and research. She has continued her life-long love of learning, earning more than enough credits for a degree and taking an interest in many intellectual and cultural pursuits.
He and Mary began having their family, and Brown cut back on his course load to manage his time. With summer school, he managed to graduate three years later.
Meanwhile, his career flourished. Now believed to hold the longevity record in the editorial department, his work has included covering high school sports, college sports, copy editing, a stint as the sports editor, and ongoing coverage of the Boston Red Sox and Springfield Falcons. Years back, he covered the Springfield Indians.
Former sportswriter Tom Shea, now a feature columnist, said Brown was the kind of mentor that money can't buy.
"Garry's a legend. Everybody knows who he is," Shea said.
"You know it's Wednesday when you see 'Hitting to All Fields' in the paper. He's one of those people who has every bit of passion for writing and reporting that he ever had. He's amazing," he added.
In truth, Garry seems more humble than proud, and happy to have had the kind of career that has always been a thrill. Rather than focus on himself and his accomplishments, he veers over to his daughter Melissa, who won the English award on her graduation, his son Peter, who now has a doctorate and works in research at the University of Massachusetts, or Paul, a chef at Randall's Farm in Ludlow.
He speaks of his four grandchildren and, of course, his wife of more than five decades.
"I'm a very lucky guy," he said.
Brown taught journalism courses here in the 1970s and 1980s, and returns to the campus whenever invited.