It happened so suddenly, it still hasn’t sunk in. First, the unexpected news from a friend I haven’t seen in years, telling me that David Brandt is deathly ill. A short phone call to tell him I’d see him soon, and then six days later that was no longer an option.
I’d always look for Dave when I dropped in at a contentious Liberty Grove Town Board meeting, and he’d be there, engaged in conversation with someone. He was concerned about the town, the state, the nation, the world, and not afraid to point the way to a better direction.
Last Jan. 13, the little prompt on Facebook asked, “How are you feeling,” and he wrote, “How am I feeling? Concerned. ‘Sad will be the day when the American people forget their traditions and their history, and no longer remember that the country they love, the institutions they cherish, and the freedom they hope to preserve, were born from the throes of armed resistance to tyranny, and nursed in the rugged arms of fearless men.’ Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence.”
That was David Brandt: He was no longer afraid, if he ever had been, to tell it like he saw it. He believed in freedom, he believed in God, and he believed in standing up for those beliefs.
I listened to the recording for the first time in seven years the other night. I’d had this idea of doing the definitive series on drunken driving – or had he suggested it? – and I sat down with David and his wife, Kari, in April 2007 to talk about their daughter Amanda.
The series got lost in the shuffle when I transferred to Green Bay for three years, but the Brandts got their message out anyway about Amanda, who was killed Sept. 25, 2006, with another girl when their car went out of control on Wisconsin 42 after a night of heavy drinking. She was 19 but somehow managed to convince a bartender to help her reach three times the legal limit.
David was heartbroken and angry, but he spoke quietly – his voice wavering – as he questioned people’s reticence about telling young people not to make the mistakes it seems young people have been making forever.
“The notion that because ‘I was there,’ because ‘I did this when I was a kid,’ that somehow I’m a hypocrite for saying to my own kids ‘Don’t do that,’ well, that’s ridiculous … I’m sorry, that’s a lame excuse.”
David and Kari appeared in a video, “With Whom Will It End,” that the Door County Sheriff’s Department uses to show young people the physical and emotional damage done by drinking and driving, and they have been frequent speakers at the Victim Impact Panels that convicted drunken drivers must attend.
Every so often the phone would ring and I’d see David’s name on the screen, recognizing that I was about to get a meaty news tip or an encouragement to follow up on a story. Sometimes I was slow to move on those tips, and I’d apologize, but he never seemed impatient – “You’re busy, I know,” he’d say, in a gentle tone that made me realize I shouldn’t be too busy to get the news out.
I’ll miss those calls.
He had a seizure, and they found tumors in his lungs and brain, and they told him he had three or four months. It was more like 10 days.
I was at a loss for words – this is the third week since he passed July 20, and only now the words are coming, in part because of what he said on the recording six years ago, about a friend who approached him months after Amanda’s death.
“She said, ‘I wanted to call but I didn’t know what to say,’” David said. “I just said, ‘Well, for what it’s worth, I don’t know how to respond.’ You know, sympathy … whenever it’s offered genuinely, it’s always helpful.”
They’ll celebrate David’s life at 5 p.m. Thursday at Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church in Ellison Bay. The Cowboy Church band plans a musical prelude beginning at 4:15 p.m.
This was a man.
Cross-posted to Door County Advocate