Sid Brown, whose photographs of athletes, animals, police scenes, weather events and average citizens illustrated the pages of The Daily Gazette for more than 40 years, has died at age 93.
Brown, who lived in Schenectady for 65 years, died Friday at his home in Hoosick Falls.
The newspaper’s ambassador with film and flash, Brown on Saturday was remembered as a man with many passions and skills. In addition to his talents with a camera, Brown was an aviator, skier, roller skater, gardener, golfer, tennis player, patron of the arts and business developer.
Family members will celebrate Brown’s life later this year.
While reporters are known for their bylines, photographers’ work is acknowledged in photo captions. At The Daily Gazette — earlier the Schenectady Gazette — “Gazette photo — Sid Brown” became a familiar credit.
Brown grew up in Schenectady and graduated from the former Mont Pleasant High School in 1945. He was drafted and served as a paratrooper in the Army of Occupation, 11th Airborne Division, in Sendai, Japan later in the 1940s. While in Japan, Brown received pilot’s training at the 11th Airborne School of Aeronautics and became interested in photography.
He began his career in photojournalism in 1948, landing a job as a Gazette staff photographer. Brown was promoted to chief photographer in 1960, a position he held until his retirement in 1991.
Covering the news could be hazardous. In 1951, while trying to get a photograph of a man outside the Schenectady County District Attorney’s office, Brown met resistance from one of the man’s friends. A tussle followed, and Brown ended up with a cut under his right eye, bruises, a smashed camera and publicity.
Brown won multiple awards for his work. His photos also appeared in the New York Times, the Daily News, Life Magazine and World Book Encyclopedia. His photos were shown in exhibitions at Union College, Syracuse University, Kent State University and regional upstate New York art galleries. His first one-man show entitled “Gazette Photo by Sid Brown” was exhibited at the Schenectady Museum in 1984.
Brown was the recipient of the first annual Associated Press Bruce Cromie Award for his 1987 photo series of the New York State Thruway bridge collapse. Brown was at the scene on Sunday, April 5, when the structure crumbled and fell into a rain-swollen Schoharie Creek. Ten people died in the collapse.
Many of Brown’s photographs showed the simple side of life. In a 1991 Gazette interview that coincided with his retirement, Brown said families and people he met on the streets were his favorite subjects.
“Usually some man who’s bald and gray will come up to me and say, ‘Gee, you took my picture when I was three years old, playing marbles,'” Brown said.
“I always felt that these were my most important,” he added. “My most important assignments were the everyday pictures of people. If I could please people, it would please me and I would feel good. I felt I was doing something for the Gazette, the subscribers.”
Garry Brown, who worked as a Gazette photographer before leaving the paper to start Brown’s Brewery — an endeavor that also included the senior Brown — said his father could not have chosen a better career.
“He loved people and telling their stories through pictures,” Brown said. “It fit his personality so well and he was able to see the fruits of his labor on a daily basis. Not too many people get credit for hard work they may do, but he did and it stood as reinforcement, I think, to flourish.
“He never complained about work except for maybe a few city editors,” Brown added. “He loved his job and it was anything but work to him. He taught me there was a feature in every part of daily life that he could somehow capture and make newsworthy. Even the ‘grips and grins’ were a social networking opportunity that could lead to a good news tip.”
Sometimes, people called the Brown household on Selden Street with news ideas. Brown also would freelance and take police scene photos, for department use only.
“When the Schenectady police would call and if they couldn’t reach him they would call him over the police frequency because they knew he was always monitoring,” Brown said. “My mom (Doris) was his unofficial handler … he would not have been successful without her love and support.”
Betsie Hume Lind, the newspaper’s chairwoman of the board, said when she was a child growing up in Schenectady, her favorite parts of the Gazette were the photos.
“My father, David Hume (Gazette president from 1986 until his death in 1993) noticed this and would share that the Gazette photographers knew how to capture the image in a compelling way,” Lind said. “In 1987, when I was working for the National Park Service on Cape Cod, he mailed me the paper showing the shot on A1 that Sid Brown took of the Thruway bridge collapsing. It certainly told the sad story well and showed the force of the water.”
John E.N. Hume III, the Gazette’s former editor and publisher, described Brown as “one of the nicest men I’ve ever known, period.”
“He was also amazingly observant,” said Hume, who did some photography work during his early years at the newspaper. “Several times I went with him on assignment and it was just incredible what he would notice.”
Hume remembered Brown handled many assignments for the newspaper pages devoted to women’s interests. He added that women photographed for this section loved Brown’s pleasant personality and perpetual good cheer.
Photos may have been simple — five people giving and receiving a bank check, for instance — but Brown often had an idea. “Sid always had another way,” Hume said. “He’d have a way to light a picture to make it flattering for everyone.”
Other news personnel who worked with Brown remembered the man behind the camera.
* “Sid was the embodiment of the professional Gazette I was proud to work for,” said Judy Patrick, a former reporter and editor who retired as editor in chief in 2018. “For decades, he captured the people, the history and the landscape of our community with a richness only a compassionate photographer can bring. He had an easy smile, a kind heart and a noble spirit.”
* “Sidney would get a great photograph when you didn’t really think anything was there,” said Gail Shufelt, who began her Gazette career as a reporter in 1962 and retired as an editor in 2003. “He was one of the best photographers ever, and a really wonderful guy and a great person to work with. When the Thruway bridge collapsed, he was there. Those kinds of things don’t happen, but they did to Sid.”
* “In 1980, we did a story on the opening of the Carrier Dome together,” said former sportswriter Mike Kane, of the massive athletic and gathering space on the campus of Syracuse University.
“We went in his plane from Schenectady airport,” Kane said. “Of course, he wanted to take shots from the sky, so we were circling the Syracuse campus with him shooting out of the left window and me — scared to death — following his instructions to hold the stick, and kind of ‘piloting’ the plane. Definitely, a once-in-a-career experience.”
* “I worked with Sid for about half of my 44-year career,” said former sportswriter and editor Rick Stellrecht. “Such a great guy, so easy for us in the sports department to work with. In the early years, I remember climbing up to the fourth floor of the old Gazette building on State Street and was amazed as Sid took time to show me the whole process from processing negatives and developing pictures in the dark room to etching half-tones used in the hot-metal printing process.
“Sid was also an avid skier and member of the United States Ski Writers Association,” Stellrecht added. “He was always looking to get his ski photos published to keep up his membership and its perks.”
* “Sid was a great guy to work with, and as a photographer, while he wasn’t aggressive or obnoxious by nature, I always had the sense he would charge through a brick wall just to get the best picture possible,” said Bill Buell, who worked in sports and later features during his full-time career. “He had a great eye for photographs, and an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time.”
* “I was so proud to work for Sidney when I came aboard the Gazette photo staff,” said longtime photographer Marc Schultz, whose father Ed also was a newspaper shooter. “He really took me under his wing to be the best, to be honest and always truthful as a lensman. His technical advice and knowledge of the craft were impeccable.”
Like Kane and other reporters, Schultz explored the sky beat with Brown.
“He was an under-control ‘barnstormer,’ Schultz said. “When he would extend himself out the open door of his plane, and leave me at the controls, I would always have to yell through the headset, ‘What do you want me to do if you fall out?'”
Brown was active at the former Woodlawn Reformed Church in Schenectady. He enjoyed both vegetable and flower gardening and was a member of the Central Park Rose Garden Restoration Committee. Along with wife Doris, Brown was a longtime volunteer in the rose beds, pruning and tending to the garden previously designed by his father, Charles D. Brown.
A longtime supporter of the arts, Brown introduced his family to Schenectady Light Opera Company, Colonie Coliseum and Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Art Hudak was Brown’s longtime pastor at Woodlawn Reformed. Hudak also was a ski, golf and tennis buddy.
“He taught me how to downhill ski, I used to go with him on the weekly outings to take pictures of the different ski resorts for the ski pages with Mr. (Bill) Rice,” Hudak said. “Sid would always invite me to accompany him.
“He was a man of integrity,” Hudak added, “who was so good at so much.”
Contact Jeff Wilkin at [email protected]