‘One of the most unique’ careers in TV sports, Don Brown dies at 84

Don Brown, who helped bring TV sports broadcasts from around the world into countless Canadian homes, died Wednesday at Victoria General Hospital at age 84.

Brown produced or directed, mostly for CBC, seven Summer Olympics, five Winter Olympics, seven Commonwealth Games and two Pan Am Games, along with 17 seasons of Hockey Night in Canada and seven seasons of Montreal Expos baseball.

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Brown’s work was highly respected in the industry, not only across Canada, but around the world.

When veteran broadcaster Ron Devion was coaxed out of retirement to head CBC’s host-broadcaster coverage of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games, he did it with the stipulation that Brown would be the main producer under him in the line of command.

“It’s no exaggeration to suggest Don Brown’s career is one of the most unique in Canadian sports television history,” said Devion.

“As producer and executive producer, he played a key role in every major sports television production, involving professional and amateur Canadian athletes, from the 1960s to the late 1990s — from the Summer and Winter Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Canada Games, hockey, football and baseball. If it involved people, a stick, a ball and a field of dreams, Don did it all.”

Brown earned a reputation in the business as a true gentleman with an unflappable nature.

“In the unpredictable atmosphere of live sports television, Don’s calmness took over as he guided production crews through the tension of the moment,” said Devion

“Don mentored and guided the careers of hundreds, sharing the secrets of the craft he learned over the decades. People knew him as Don, Donnie, Brownie and Mr. Brown.”

Legendary Canadian broadcaster Lloyd Robertson worked with Brown at the CBC.

“Don was one of the sweetest guys ever in our rough and tumble world of TV. He always cared about the welfare of others, often at his own expense,” Robertson said.

Esquimalt-raised play-by-play announcer and sports analyst Steve Armitage called many Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimming races with Brown at the production helm.

“Don was a good man in a tough business,” said Armitage.

CBC Sports paid homage with a segment to Brown during its coverage Saturday of the FIS freestyle ski-cross World Cup event in Italy. Rogers Hockey Night in Canada is also planning a tribute to Brown between periods of one of its games tonight.

Brown’s 53-year broadcasting career included shepherding CBC’s harrowing coverage of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.

Brown was a freelancer producer with NBC on the night Donovan Bailey won the 100-metres gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and stood up in the American network’s booth and belted out O Canada when the Maple Leaf was raised.

“My NBC compatriots told me to just wait until the U.S. got its revenge in the 4x100 relay, but we all know what happened there as well,” said Brown, in a 2010 Times Colonist interview.

When he came to Victoria in the early 1990s, Brown was concerned the city was perhaps not up to the task of hosting the Commonwealth Games.

“But the 1994 Games turned out so good and so special, with my British, Aussie and New Zealand TV compatriots telling me the Victoria Games were sensational. Boy, did this town ever step up, and then some, for those Games,” Brown told the Times Colonist.

Brown spent many nights in the broadcast trailer outside NHL rinks across the country in his time with Hockey Night in Canada. But the team he said he most loved covering was baseball’s Expos.

Brown said despite all his experiences at the Olympics, he is most proud of his many years of producing the TV coverage of the Canada Games, because that’s where the climb started for many of Canada’s Olympians.

Devion had moved to Brentwood Bay before the Victoria Commonwealth Games. Brown also fell in love with the Island and never left following his work on the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Brown was inducted into the CBC Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2013.

Brown is survived by son Gregory, daughters Megan and Chelsea and four grandchildren.

A celebration of life is planned next month in Victoria with details to be announced.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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