Editor’s note: Our great colleague Mike Brown passed away peacefully on February 21, 2021, with his beloved family at his side. You can read his obituary here. The family has suggested that in lieu of flowers, donations in Mike’s memory may be made to Catholic Charities.
Legendary public relations executive Mike Brown announced his retirement after serving in the communications profession for more than half a century. He has been a seminal figure in California and Bay Area journalism, the Catholic Church, publishing, transportation, education, and public relations since the 1960s.
Mike is also battling cancer, which played a role in his retirement decision.
He said “no bells and no whistles” should be sounded about his retirement or his diagnosis, but that’s not the way it works at the Round Table, especially since Mike has been a member of this organization for decades and served as our chair in 2010.
Mike left his role this month as Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He had been appointed by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone in 2015, for whom he also worked when Cordileone was Bishop of Oakland. In Oakland, he served as Director of Communications and Community Relations for three different Bishops.
At the S.F. Archdiocese, Mike was responsible for all aspects of media, and got to build upon his early journalism experience serving as Associate Editor of Catholic San Francisco, the Archdiocesan weekly with a circulation of 65,000. Mike worked closely with the Archbishop, Archdiocesan offices, and the 93 parishes of the Archdiocese to inform people about the activities the local church in San Francisco was undertaking to spread the message of the Gospel and to attract people to regular worship at Mass in their local parishes.
In 2020, Mike was named Communications Director of the Year by the U.S.–Canada Catholic Press Association.
Before working for the Catholic Church, Mike was a founding Partner with Jeff Raleigh at Brown and Raleigh, a full-service public relations counsel to corporations and associations. Their clients included St. Mary’s College and the California Province of the Society of Jesus.
Earlier in his illustrious career, Mike served as the Director of Corporate Communications for Consolidated Freightways Corp., Managing Director of Communications for Southern Pacific Railroad, and Director of University Communications at the University of San Francisco. His early career in communications began as staff editor for a senior columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Over the course of his career, I have had the great fortune to work for, with and against Mike. It was a pleasure and a treat to work for and with him. It was a daunting task to oppose him.
Mike is a master strategist, an exceptional writer, and a world-class story teller. It is always a pleasure to be in his presence, to think openly about how to handle delicate and high stake issues. He leaves no stone unturned in evaluating a situation. You can see his mind ticking like a clock through his eyes as he plays out scenarios and what their outcome might be.
A tall, imposing figure, he lights up any room with his stories, charm, and down-to-earth presence, kindness and generosity. Mike possesses a gentlemanly, old-world style and panache. His humor is so charmingly dry it would make a Martini blush. All of these wonderful personal characteristics contributed to his success throughout his 50+ year career.
There are very few people who can list on their resumes that they were a “legman,” but that is exactly how Mike started in journalism at the San Francisco Chronicle.
A legman is defined as “a journalist who actively finds the news.” Among his roles as a young newspaperman, Mike worked for columnist Charles McCabe, “The Fearless Spectator.” McCabe had a huge following and many letters from readers flowed into the paper. As McCabe’s editorial assistant, Mike Brown would write touching or apologetic replies to most if not all of the letters. Many people remember the beautiful letters and say they formed their opinion about McCabe from them. Yet he never read nor wrote any of them. They were all the work of Mike Brown.
We are honored to have Mike as a member of the Round Table, honored to have him as a leading light in our profession, and we send our thoughts and prayers to him.
Longtime PRRT member Sam Singer is one of the nation’s leading communications strategists, nationally known for handling significant public affairs, corporate communications and crisis communications campaigns. A former journalist and political campaign manager, his agency, Singer Associates, was selected by Forbes Magazine as one of the nation’s top PR agencies for 2021 and was named “Public Affairs Agency of the Year” in 2013 by The Holmes Report and PR Week’s “Public Relations Agency of the Year” in 2015.