Obituary: Michael Brown

by
03 May 2019

Yorkshire Post

A correspondent writes:

MICHAEL BROWN, who died on 15 March, aged 74, was the religious-affairs correspondent for the Yorkshire Post for nearly 30 years.

During that time, he regularly reported on the meetings of the General Synod, at which he is remembered as a friendly and funny presence in the press room, besides having a good eye for a story and a sharp intellect.

Michael was a tenacious reporter who relished the challenge of pursuing stories about the Church, its clergy and laity. He had one of the finest contacts books of any religious-affairs correspondent, and there was hardly a member of the Universal Church, particularly Church of England, from archbishops to the church mouse, who did not quake when he rang them up, wondering what he had unearthed about them.

At the same time he mostly managed to stay on the right side of them, and many became his friends. He was on first-name terms with archbishops and many bishops and treated everyone with equal charm. But he never allowed friendships to get in the way of a story, often finding them when he was visiting a church as a worshipper.

He always defended the rights of the press — the Fourth Estate, as he grandly referred to it — often having to explain to people that parish magazines and other material freely available in churches were public documents.

When one diocesan communications officer once tried to influence a story by asking Michael to put the official spin on it, he was quick with his response: “I’m not the PR for the Church of England.”

On another occasion, when pursuing a story involving a cathedral cleric, he found copies of a letter to the parishioners about the matter in the pews and promptly used it to ask questions. They were horrified, and he relished telling them that, having been left around for anyone to see, it was, therefore, a public document.

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Michael was a devout Christian in the Anglo-Catholic tradition and not a supporter of the ordination of women to the priesthood, although he said he was not an “impossibilist”. He held the view that if the Universal Church eventually approved, then he would follow.

In later years, he worshipped at St Wilfrid’s, Harehills, Leeds, where he was a server. In his youth, he attended St Mary’s, Beeston, Leeds, where he was both a server and a choirboy. For many years, he and his family worshipped at St Matthew’s, Chapel Allerton, but he left when a woman priest was appointed to the parish, although the parting was amicable.

His faith was strong; although he never imposed it on others, it showed in unassuming ways. He and his wife, Jennifer, were among the finest exponents of the lay ministry of hospitality for which many newcomers to the Yorkshire Post were grateful. It was they who would invite them for a meal and help them to settle in their new surroundings.

It was also his faith that sustained Michael after the death, in 2011, of Jennifer, whom he adored and who was his rock, and from which he never really recovered.

Michael David Brown was born in Leeds, the elder of two children of Harold Brown, general manager at Hudswell Clarke and Co., locomotive manufacturers in Hunslet, Leeds, and his wife, Catherine.

His mother was an Associate of the London College of Music and taught the piano, a musical talent that Michael inherited from her. Wherever the family lived, he insisted on having a piano, on which he mainly played hymns.

He was educated at Michael’s Lodge School, Headingley, Leeds, and later at Parkside School, Beeston, Leeds.

He had a love of words, with very strong views on the use of the apostrophe; so it was appropriate that, aged16, he joined the Morley Observer as a trainee reporter, before going to the Dewsbury Reporter, where he met Jennifer Rothery, whom he married in 1965 at St Wilfrid’s, Calverley.

He moved to the Buxton Advertiser before returning to West Yorkshire in 1970 to work in the Huddersfield office of the Yorkshire Post.

In 1978, he transferred to the newspaper’s head office in Leeds, where, with his deep knowledge of theology and church affairs, he took on the post of religious-affairs reporter, while remaining a general reporter. His talent brought him awards for feature-writing, but he never relinquished his primary post as news reporter.

Michael was generous, witty, and a marvellous raconteur, with a fund of stories, preferably related over a beer, hand-pulled of course, in a pub without music, games, or any entertainment to disturb conversation.

He also had a wonderfully waspish sense of humour, and was fun to be with, although he could be irascible. He viewed the modern world with disdain; he never used a mobile phone and did not drive. But he enjoyed cycling, a pleasure that he handed on to some of his grandchildren, both alone and with friends on annual holidays round Britain, and occasionally abroad.

He is survived by his daughters, Heather, Andrea, and Frances, eight grandchildren, and his sister, Mary.

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