Pamplin Media Group – Remembering a gentle company man, Steve Brandon

The longtime Portland Tribune sports editor died Sept. 9 at age 68; he was a devoted newspaperman.


Steve Brandon, an original member of the Portland Tribune staff and longtime staple of the city’s sports scene, would never get too high or too low when dealing with his job.

“Well … shoot,” he would say. “We’ll make it work.”

And you knew he would confidently lead the way in taking care of things — with a smile, talent, positivity and the gentle and sweet demeanor befitting somebody who enjoyed his position in life. Anybody who met Steve couldn’t forget him. And, a lot of people knew Steve, and liked him.

Steve Brandon was the type of person you wanted to be around.

So, now we have to deal with life without him. The former Tribune sports editor (2001-20), died Friday, Sept. 9, from an apparent heart attack. It stunned me and others who knew him. Steve was 68, and he was working as a part-time sports reporter at the Polk County Itemizer-Observer in Dallas. He was somebody who was always there, always dependable, always enthusiastic and always willing to share any and all institutional knowledge.

In the same week the world lost Queen Elizabeth II, we lost part of Portland sports journalism royalty.

A native Portlander who attended Cleveland High School and Portland State University, Steve started in journalism as a high school student more than 50 years ago, and his career took off with the Oregon Journal (starting in 1976) and The Oregonian. He wrote about every subject possible, including the Trail Blazers, developing a reputation as one of the steadiest, most complete and fair writers around.

Steve exemplified hard work. No wonder he adored the late, great Arnold Palmer, the working man’s golfer.

I’m proud to say I worked with Steve for 20 years, and while the stories abound, it’s more the person that I will miss dearly.

Yours truly had about a three-hour conversation with him about moving from The O to the Trib; I recall having Steve go through all the details of such a move, always such a curious fellow. Once on board, Steve cared about the Tribune. He cared about the newspaper, the content, the image, the people he worked with — me, Kerry Eggers, Dwight Jaynes and many others throughout the years. It wasn’t just a job for Steve, it was a major part of his life. Perhaps he was a workaholic, but in a good way. He took ownership, a special trait for an employee who only wanted the best for the company.

Steve used to lament the online and social media aspects of journalism, not because he wouldn’t accept it as a new part of the business, but he loved putting out the physical product, the newspaper. It was special to him, every story, every issue, in an evolving digital world. He knew the responsibility that came with being a reporter and editor and took it seriously.

Thousands of our stories went through Steve’s computer — Portland preps, colleges, Winterhawks, Trail Blazers, Ducks, Beavers, Pilots, Vikings, Timbers and Thorns, golf, auto racing, you name it. Steve would oversee operations, but also wrote stories that needed to be done, and some that just should be written.

I never saw Steve more invested than when an accident took the life of former Cleveland High and University of Oregon tennis player Alex Rovello. He knew Alex, and the young man’s death hit the Brandon family and Cleveland community hard. It was one of the stories at the intersection of life and news and emotional impact. It was beautiful writing, a wonderful tribute to a tennis champion. It’s like he wrote it with tears in his eyes.

Another indelible memory: A snowstorm hit Portland in December 2008, dumping a massive amount of snow and Steve convinced a co-worker with a four-wheel-drive truck (me) to venture into unplowed Southeast Portland to pick him up and bring him to the office. There was work to do. It was one of those times that was just … fun.

By the way, anybody who didn’t think it was physically possible for one person to carry four bags — a computer bag, a couple bags of files and paperwork and another with health supplements — at one time, never met the extraordinary Mr. Brandon.

This was a person who did what needed to be done. Working with Dwight and Kerry and others, Steve was instrumental in bringing back the Oregon Sports Awards. He was committed to helping the Portland Interscholastic League Hall of Fame every year — Steve cherished the Portland of old.

Celebrating, honoring and informing about athletes, coaches and other sports people — classic Steve Brandon.

Upon hearing of Steve’s death, another former Tribune writer, Jeff Smith, found and posted to social media the story about Steve’s hiring at the Itemizer-Observer. It was surreal to read.

“I’m convinced the athletes don’t realize how important high school sports — just like music, drama, speech and other extracurricular activities — are to a community’s well-being. And how much entertainment they provide. And how many memories they create for everyone,” he said in the Itemizer-Observer story. “It truly is about so much more than wins and losses. You appreciate that a lot more as the years go by, and I hope today’s athletes will look back fondly on their experiences, too.”

The Oregon Ducks played Auburn for the national championship in January 2011 in Phoenix. There we were — me, Stephen Alexander, Kerry, Steve and photographers Jaime Valdez and Christopher Onstott — ready to cover one of the biggest events in the state’s sports history.

And, two nights before the game, Steve had a heart attack. We rushed him to the hospital — Onstott driving through Scottsdale like Mario Andretti — and Stephen, Jaime and I comforting Steve. Doctors took care of him. I remember kissing Steve on the forehead.

The next day, we visited Steve. He was lying in a hospital bed, lamenting not being able to attend the big game. At the same time — smiling and joking, happy to have people around him, including daughter Shasta Williams.

Steve is survived by his wife, Carol, kids and grandkids, many relatives and a long list of people he met through one of the loves of his life, sports journalism. For me, I couldn’t have been surrounded by better people at the Tribune with Steve and, for the past several years, Paul Danzer.

In a Facebook post once, I called Steve one of the best sports editors in the country. Hard to quantify, but we in the business know things. He was the whole package. He just cared, you know?

Those of us at the Tribune and others who have crossed paths with Steve will look back fondly at our association with him.

“Well … shoot.”

Steve Brandon is gone.

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