Cherish your friends.
I have been blessed with many more than I deserve – all over Kentucky.
But I had two special friends, as close as brothers, from the grade school we attended, all the way through high school and until last week when I lost one of them to diabetes.
Let me tell you about Donald Brandenburg. Brandy was a born leader. He was a good tackle and the only two-time captain of our little high school’s football team. We usually had just one coach, and if we had an occasional assistant, he didn’t know much football.
So Brandy had to coach some. On the field, as captain, he was in charge. He saw to it that there was no talking in huddles except by the quarterback.
If there was, Brandy would banish the loudmouth to the bench.
A couple of days after I had heart surgery some 10 years ago, I had three friends from Lexington visit me in the hospital. They were Joe B. Hall, Oscar Combs and Johnny Ginn of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
The phone rang and I asked Joe to answer. He said, “Coach Hall. Yes, coach Joe B. Hall,” and handed me the phone.
“Who was that smart aleck?” asked Brandy. I told him it was indeed coach Hall and he said, “I almost told him that I was Wah Wah Jones!”
When Ellis Johnson was coaching both football and basketball at Morehead State, he tried to talk Brandy into becoming an Eagle. Brandy thanked one of the greatest athletes in the history of the University of Kentucky and in our entire state, but he had to say no because he was in love! No recruiter, no matter how good, could compete with love.
But still I was surprised when he asked me, “What are you doing Sunday night?”
I told him nothing and asked what he had in mind.
“Kaye and I are getting married and I want you to stand up with me.”
After a couple of college years at what is now Eastern Kentucky University, Brandy and I both taught in one-room schoolhouses, all eight grades. That’s why I have always been respectful of teachers.
After mandatory military service, Brandy landed a job as a salesman. In all of the little and big towns where he worked, he was a valued and involved citizen. Ask old timers in Middlesboro, where he started. He was a school board member, a city councilman and found time to become a top football referee for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
He climbed the corporate ladder to the big leagues. He negotiated with Kansas City’s major league baseball team and also with the NFL team for expensive advertising space in their ball parks.
Chicago was next. He was a whiz there too. He held a regional meeting in Louisville and asked me to tell his sales people some sports stories.
New York City was next. But he already had made more money than he could ever spend so he thanked his company and went back to Irvine (that’s in eastern Kentucky, on the fringe of the Blue Grass) where he built a big log cabin in Estill County.
When my son finished his degree at UK in three and a half years, he decided to go to law school at U of L. Before he could do that he had to work eight months to earn tuition money.
I called Brandy. His answer: “When does he want to start to work?”
Jobs were hard to find then, just as they are now.
My son asked me, “Why would Mr. Brandenburg do this for me?”
There were a lot of reasons, but I told my son how close Brandy and I were. For instance, Brandy told me that he wanted me to go to Hazard with him on the L&N passenger train. He had to have an appendectomy. That didn’t make sense to me because Richmond’s Pattie A. Clay Hospital was 15 or 20 minutes from our hometown. Hazard was more than 100 miles away and the train was slow. He said his dad wanted him to go to Hazard. I went with Brandy of course and was scared to death that his appendix would burst before we finished the long trip.
And I told my son some high school girl stories about Brandy and me. All true, of course.
Yogi made sense
Now a Yogi Berra story. Yogi was asked why he went to so many funerals. He said: “Well, I figure that if I don’t go to yours, you won’t come to mine.”
The toughest thing I have ever had to do was deliver eulogies, but I have done it several times because I just couldn’t say no.
So this may surprise you, but I couldn’t make myself go to Brandy’s funeral. I wanted to remember the good times with him. I know that he would have understood.
He taught literacy!
I will close with a story that brought tears to a lot of people. On the night when Brandy was inducted into the Estill County Hall of Fame, a man stood up and started walking toward the dais. He stopped and said, “I know that I’m not dressed right, but I want to tell you about Mr. Brandenburg. I never learned to read. You can’t believe how that made me feel. But Mr. Brandenburg taught me to read and it changed my life!”
I knew that Brandy had been involved in a literacy program, but here was tear-jerking truth.
I asked Brandy how many people he had taught to read.
In his typically low-key way, he said, “Oh, quite a few.”
Category: Earl Cox on Sports
About the Author (Author Profile)
Earl Cox, Sports Columnist
Earl doesn¹t just write about sports legends, he counts many of them as his
friends. A member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, he has been writing
about sports for 60 years. Incidentally, that¹s about how long it’s been
since he¹s cleaned his desk but he knows where everything is.