Norm Brewer died with his boots on. Almost up to the very end, Brewer, WREG's resident news analyst, kept up his daily commentaries and his Sunday night stints on the station's politically oriented Informed Sources show. It was evident — from his progressive gauntness, if nothing else — that Brewer was ailing, and the word had been out for some time among those who knew him: the Big C. Only a matter of time. Meanwhile, he remained alert and attentive. What he said was crisp, informative, and original. He genuinely seemed preoccupied with the troubles of the body politic, not his own. And those who watched him still focused on what he said, not what he looked like.
Brewer was a native Memphian, and during his 76 years, his career spanned the corners of the local media world. Those whose memories go back to the 1950s recall him as a deejay, a member of the old WMPS-AM Top 40 stable. From there, he made his way into television, serving as an anchor at WMC-TV for many years, including the politically controversial ones of the late 1960s and early 1970s. More than once, he was the target of threats from viewers who took umbrage at his take-no-prisoners directness — notably in his espousal of the cause of striking sanitation workers in 1968. He went on to head the Downtown Council, precursor of today's Center City Commission. Then he was opinion editor at The Commercial Appeal, where his penchant for wit and fearlessness in advancing often unpopular views were hallmarks.
For some years after his newspaper gig, Brewer ran a state-of-the-art public relations agency with his then wife, Carol Coletta (herself destined to be a media eminence and opinion leader). After an uncharacteristic period of being at loose ends, Brewer found a niche at WREG, where, for the 15 years or so preceding his death, he and his opinions constituted a nightly must-see for many Mid-South viewers.
Brewer never went out of style. Au contraire. He was the constant around which other things changed.
Toward the end, Brewer was almost as thin as the trademark rolled-up paper he always clutched in one hand as he made his points. That characteristic image, along with a verbal style that was likened to that of such seeming disparate news icons as David Brinkley and Tom Brokaw but was altogether Norm Brewer's own, will live on for some time to come.
The recent death of 9th District congressman Steve Cohen's mother, Genevieve Cohen, also counterpoints the holiday season with the bittersweet that is sadness mingled with remembered joy. Wife of an eminent psychiatrist, the late Dr. Morris Cohen, Genevieve Cohen raised three sons and made it into her 90s, a time when her son the congressman made it a point to lavish the care and attention on her that she had once expended on him and his siblings. Like them, we miss her.