The missed call was from a number that I didn’t have stored into my cell phone. As I drove home from a family gathering in Anaheim last Sunday, I called back.
“Hi, this is Becky! You may not remember me, but I met you when you came over to the house to see Brad and I kept your number. I wanted to let you know that Brad passed this evening.”
Not long thereafter a text message from Danny Bakewell, Jr.: “You hear Brad Pye passed away?
I texted back: “I know.”
A few days before I was informed by his daughter Jill that he was in hospice and as she said “living out his last days on earth.”
So, I knew it was coming, but still not prepared for it.
My mentor, my confidant, my role model and hero…Brad Pye, Jr. had died. He was 89.
During the past week, my longtime friend and former Sentinel colleague Mike Taylor and I reflected quite a bit about Brad. He mentored both of us as he did many others.
I first met Brad in 1977 when I was a senior at Fremont High School. An aspiring journalist who had been featured on a television show hosted by the late Tommy Hawkins, Brad took notice of me early on.
He hired me at the Sentinel in ’77 with a promise of making me the next sports editor.
That never happened under Brad’s watch, but ultimately did at the Sentinel.
I had to convince my mother that I would eventually attend college so that I could accept Brad’s offer to come and join him at the Sentinel in ’77.
It was a decision that in retrospect turned out to be one that would shape and hone me not just as a journalist, but also more importantly as a Black man.
I knew very little about Black history before joining the Sentinel where civil rights came alive and the fight for social justice was raw and real.
Yes, I had an affinity for sports and yearned to become sport editor, but I now believe that Brad used the lure of sports to teach me about culture and life.
He was the man who integrated the Los Angeles Coliseum press box along with his late friend Brock Brockenberry.
I followed in his footsteps and so did Mike Taylor.
Brad wanted to make sure that I knew what my responsibility was to Blacks who would someday follow.
He knew how privileged media access for Blacks was and how responsible we had to be to maintain it.
While Blacks lacked the resources of our white contemporaries, our professionalism had to be tiptop.
Not only did Brad have Al Davis as an ally, but before that he earned the respect of legendary times columnist Jim Murray. Because they respected Brad, that respect translated to others and myself.
Brad was instrumental in the Raiders allowing for Sentinel writers to travel with the team on road trips, an accommodation that had long been afforded to white reporters.
One of those flights was the first time I had ever been on a plane or left the city limits of Los Angeles.
Brad made it is life mission to record and document the accolades of every Black athlete and he enjoyed relationships with many of them such as Olympic track and NFL great Ollie Matson and former Lakers great Elgin Baylor.
He understood and treasured loyalty in relationships.
He would often tell me that you never know when you may have to cash in on one those relationships.
One of his fondest relationships was with the late iconic County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who hired Brad after Ken Thomas fired the entire Sentinel staff after acquiring the paper upon Ruth Washington’s death in 1987.
Brad took me under his wing. Two words that will always resonate with me when I think of Brad Pye, Jr: Fear & Respect!
“Ken there will always be people more talented than you, but don’t ever let anybody out work you,” he’d say.
His presence was towering and often intimidating.
“The only time you should miss work is if you are dead or dying,” he’d tell me.
For more than five years I never missed a day of work, including weekends.
The newsroom in those days wreaked of the musty smell of old newspapers. We worked out of the office on 43rd and Central Ave.
The late owner Ruth Washington was the publisher; Brad was the man in charge of everything. I do mean everything. He’s known for being a long time pioneering sports journalist, but when I got there in ’77 he was the managing editor and sports editor.
Royal manual typewriters occupied small desk inside a crested row of cubicles, with outsized square cut to where Brad could see the head of each person.
The late great Jim Cleaver had his own office.
Our advertising manager was the later chain-smoking Phil; Margie Sturgis was our copy editor, Dorothy in the front office, Denise assisting Phil.
It was some team, and Brad was at the helm.
We all feared him and we all respected him.
Brad Pye Jr. had a work ethic that was unparalleled.
Brad wore a lot hats, but none figuratively. First Black Coliseum Commissioner, and first African-American public relations staffer in Major League Baseball while working for the Los Angeles Angels first African-American administrator in the American Football League while serving under Commissioner Al Davis.
He began as a deputy under Hahn; was promoted to assistant chief deputy and also worked as a top deputy to Yvonne Braithwaite Burke when she replaced Hahn as county supervisor in 1992.
Brad launched a program to provide free year-round swimming instruction for kids, which continues today as the Aquatic Foundation of Metropolitan Los Angeles.
In 1993 he became division chief of the Department of Children and Family Services and worked as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator and manager of the Disaster Services Section, the Exams/Recruitment Section, and the Health and Safety/Return to Work Section.
Brad also volunteered throughout the city of Los Angeles and was the first African-American president of the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners.
He paved the way for the advancement of African-Americans to senior level positions within the department. In 2015 the City of Los Angeles named the gymnasium at Saint Andrews Recreation Center the Brad Pye Jr. Athletic Center in honor of Pye’s impact and contribution to the city and local residents.