Column: Archer Brown

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | An original sign for the newspaper.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | An original sign for the newspaper.

On September 30, 1999, a little more than 16 years ago, the following classified ad appeared in this newspaper:

The award-winning Shelter Island Reporter has an immediate year-round opening for a full-time writer, or two part-timers, to cover regular news beats, sports and report breaking Island news events. Computer and writing skills a must, camera skills helpful. Salary negotiable, depending on experience.

Within two or three days the job was filled by a young reporter looking for full-time work; however, managing editor Art Barnett had made an appointment to interview a woman who was interested in part-time work and it was too late to cancel.

Art planned to meet her, explain that the job was filled but let her know that her name, Archer Brown, would be at the top of the list for the next opening.

In those days the Reporter was in the 9 Grand Avenue building, an old two-story house. A raucous group of 11 employees, young and old, crammed nearly cheek to jowl into those small rooms. I had joined the staff as features editor a few weeks earlier and quickly learned that though I had a publisher and an editor to answer to, the real power in that place belonged to Circulation Manager Ethel Michalak, who also served as the office manager and mother hen.

Once, when a rowdy employee threw a cardboard box from the second floor down to the first floor landing, Ethel shouted through the ceiling in a voice that could surely be heard across the street at the hardware store, “Don’t you ever throw anything down the stairs in a building that has a mother in it!”

After that, nobody did. Not even at the hardware store.

Into that mix came Archer Brown to interview for a job that no longer existed. Everyone liked her right off the bat, including Art, who recognized what an asset she would be and, after first getting an “O.K.” nod from Ethel, hired her on the spot. And so the formerly-retired Miss Brown began her journalistic journey the week after her interview.

She hit the ground running, covering a school board meeting. Her byline appeared for the first time in the October 14, 1999 issue, the same one in which “Archer Brown, Reporter” was added to the staff list. Since then her name, with several different titles, has been part of the Shelter Island Reporter for 825 issues.

Archer came to the Reporter about a year after she moved to the Island following a much-lauded career in Washington D.C. with NAFSA (Association of International Educators), an organization that promotes and facilitates international education and exchange. Though we became friends immediately, I had to dig for this information. It did not come from Archer, who seldom talks about herself and hardly ever — no, make that never — blows her own horn.

One example of that strange quirk (quite foreign to some of us!) occurred early in our friendship when she said she had to work on a speech because someone at NAFSA was being given an award at a conference half-way around the world. It was Archer, she’s the one who got the award. But she never told me about that part; it was Google that spilled the beans.

She worked as a reporter from Oct­ober 1999 until September 2004, when she moved up the staff ladder to community news editor, though Archer never gave up that reporter’s hat and continued to cover the Village of Dering Harbor meetings and the weekly police blotter. (Which is why that flashy blue PT Cruiser convertible was seen parked in front of police headquarters on such a regular basis.)

Three years ago, in February 2013, she scaled back on her hours and responsibilities, turning over the community news to its new editor, JoAnn Kirkland, but Archer continued to maintain a dual role as reporter/proofreader until now, more than 16 years and many thousands of pages later.

Back when Archer started at the paper, Gardner (Pat) Cowles III was the publisher and Elizabeth Bonora, the assistant publisher. Before the end of that year, Troy Gustavson, publisher of the Suffolk Times, would buy the Reporter and a few months into 2000 (AKA Y2K) resettle the staff in its present Center location.

Archer is the last of those original 12 employees who were with the paper when it passed from Cowles to Gustavson and moved from Grand Avenue to North Ferry Road.

Art Barnett was the first editor Archer worked with at the Reporter, then came Peter Boody, then Jason Shields, then Peter Boody, again, followed by Cara Loriz, then Peter Boody yet again and now, Ambrose Clancy.

Former editor Cara Loriz who worked both under Archer and over her wrote about her experience:
Shelter Island has a knack for attracting retirees, who, despite having no prior ties to the place, end up working their butts off for their adopted community. Few have done so with the humor, affection and steadfastness of Archer Brown. She cultivated the Reporter’s relationship with the Island in so many ways, much to the benefit of the paper and its readers. I started working with Archer as her community clips underling and ended up her editor and she was remarkably supportive and savvy every step of the way.

The Reporter just won’t be the same without Archer as its admired ambassador around the Island.

“Ambassador” is a good word to describe Archer. She works at being diplomatic and gets along with almost everyone. And if she doesn’t get along with someone, without exception, the fault is not hers. I discovered this knack for diplomacy during the years we worked together. Where I tend to lunge head-first into a situation, to just blurt things out, it is her custom to stand back a moment and think things through.

“I am going to kill him and I mean it this time!” I might say about one of our various editors, while I searched my desk drawer for a nail file, fly swatter or any other suitable weapon.

“Well, dear,” she would say, “let’s talk about this for a moment,” or something equally calming. Early on I learned that when she plays the “Well, dear,” card, it was her diplomatic way of saying, “Stop it, stupid!”

Tact and diplomacy tempered with grace and kindness just come naturally to Archer. Jason Shields, who sat in the editor’s chair on September 11, 2001, remembers those traits:

When I took the reins of the paper as a young and inexperienced editor, I was a bit apprehensive. Archer helped allay that insecurity my first days on the job. She is a gracious person with a wry wit and a no-nonsense approach to covering the beats nobody else wants. My tenure was brief but rich with fond memories of working with this consummate professional. And we shared a lot of laughs, along with Joanne Sherman, Peter Boody and Ethel Michalak, as only small-town newspaper people can. Archer was also a great proofreader and valued sounding board who saved my behind countless times.

For me, without a doubt, the best thing that came from my years at the Reporter is the friendship Archer and I share. Even though I left the paper years ago, we have maintained our connection. If I had to come up with just one word to describe Archer, it would be “loyal.” Archer Brown is true-blue loyal. PT Cruiser blue loyal.

She is loyal to the high standards she sets for herself and maybe that’s why she seem to brings out the best in the people around her. She has certainly been one of the most loyal employees to work for the Shelter Island Reporter, proving that Art Barnett did a wonderful thing for the paper and the community that day when he decided he wanted Archer Brown as part of his staff. How fortunate for her, but mostly for all of us.

Peter Boody, who sat in the editor’s hot seat three different times during Archer’s tenure at the paper put into words what so many people feel:

I adore the unflappable Archer Brown. How can someone so rock-solid competent and capable, who never groans, complains or takes her eye off the task at hand, no matter what kind of chaos is spinning around her in the Reporter office, also be so much fun? My only regret, besides having irritated her on a regular basis no doubt, is she never let me write her profile. But Archer has never been one to draw attention to herself. Still waters run deep.