The Power of the Press
Royal Brougham was born in St. Louis on September 17, 1894, and arrived in Seattle with his family as a youngster. He vividly remembered his youth in Seattle, particularly on Queen Anne Hill, which -- in his opinion -- was a “mini-mountain.”
“What a challenge for a 10-year-old boy and his red coaster wagon. Starting at the very top, we took off like a runaway rocket. If they were looking, passersby saw an apparition of a red streak doing about 60 m.p.h., with a very scared passenger desperately clinging to the sides.
“Alas, the little wooden wagon disintegrated upon striking a telephone pole. Thanks to the protecting wings of some unseen angel, this juvenile Barney Oldfield wasn’t even scratched” (“Royal Brougham Remembers”).
Brougham attended Franklin High School but, in 1910, dropped out to be a copy boy in the sports department of the Post-Intelligencer. Despite an unfinished education, Brougham quickly rose from errand boy to part-time writer, then full-time sports journalist. “I broke into the newspaper business 64 years ago at the Post-Intelligencer for a weekly salary of six dollars ... It was a steal,” he recalled in 1975 (“Royal Brougham Remembers”).
Never literary in style, Brougham wrote informally and often punctuated his columns with personal anecdotes or rhymes. These traits infuriated his critics but delighted his readership. For many years Brougham was the “face” of the P-I, one of its highest-paid reporters and the man who received the largest amount of fan mail as well as hate mail.
Brougham’s rise at the P-I was swift. He became the paper’s sports editor in 1923, then managing editor in 1925. In 1928, Brougham returned to the sports desk -- demoted, some said, because he refused to print several stories on actress Marion Davies (1897-1961), the mistress of William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951). (The P-I was a Hearst-owned paper.) Thereafter he headed sports department for the next 40-plus years, until becoming an associate editor in 1968.
In the Thick of Things
As the senior P-I sportswriter, Royal Brougham had the good fortune to cover many of the twentieth century’s most famous sporting events, and befriended many of the athletes themselves -- friendships he would later tap for his various community service projects. The list of luminaries that Brougham knew is astounding -- from Babe Ruth (1895-1948) to Babe Didrickson (1914-1956), from golfer Bobby Jones (1902-1971) to innumerable prizefighters. Nor were his connections limited to sports: When attending one of the two Joe Louis/Jersey Joe Wolcott fights in late 1940s, Brougham's ringside guest was John Roosevelt (1916-1981), son of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945).
Perhaps Brougham’s most famous assignment, however, was the one that no one in Seattle was able to read about. In 1936, he accompanied the University of Washington rowing crew to the Berlin Olympics. None of his work reporting on the Olympics appeared locally, since the Post-Intelligencer went on strike while he was away. But that didn’t stop Brougham from pursuing a good story. One tale has Brougham marching straight up to Adolph Hitler’s (1889-1945) suite for an unscheduled interview with the German leader. Brougham was turned away, but not before locking eyes with Hitler, if only for a brief moment (“The Life and Times of Royal Brougham”).
Power Put to Use
When they were published, Royal Brougham’s columns could be very opinionated, and also very influential. Scathing articles may have helped show the door to several local coaches. Toward the end of the University of Washington’s 1947 football season, Brougham reported that coach Ralph Welch would be given walking papers at the season’s end. There were no facts behind this report; it merely represented Brougham’s wishes. Shortly after the season ended, Welch was let go (“The Life and Times of Royal Brougham”). People forget, Emmett Watson quoted a former colleague as saying, “that Royal was once one of the most powerful men in the state. Not just in sports, in any field ... . He used this power judiciously. And that is how he was able to raise enormous sums of money for charities, servicemen’s recreations; how he could cajole and shame the citizens of Seattle into desegregating lilywhite golf courses and bowling alleys. His power translated into a better break for Japanese after World War II. He demanded ‘living memorials’ in the form of playfields to remember military dead, instead of statues of some guy sitting on an iron horse” (R.B. -- R.I.P.).
Royal Brougham had long been concerned with the plight of others, but America’s involvement in World War II spurred him into civic activities as never before. For instance, through a series of charity events, he raised more than $150,000 to purchase sporting and recreation equipment for soldiers overseas. (Brougham was cited by the War Department for his exemplary fundraising efforts.) Further, he was accumulating an incredible record of wartime involvement: Chair of the Seattle War Athletic Council, Vice-chair of the Seattle USO Council, Board of Directors of the Seattle/King County American Red Cross, and Washington director of the National Commission of Living War Memorials.
Nor did Brougham’s efforts stop with America’s soldiers. He constantly promoted funding for school athletic facilities, in addition to recreation areas such as parks and national forests. He was a strong advocate for fairness in sports, such as when he campaigned to remove a “whites only” clause from the bylaws of the American Bowling Congress. He was also a member of the Press Committee for the 1948 and 1952 Olympic games, sat on the Football Writers Association Board of Directors, was a member of the Seattle Rotary for almost half a century, and received citizenship awards from B’nai B’rith and many other organizations. There were times when Royal Brougham seemed to be everywhere; his stature was such that, in 1953, Seattle Pacific University named their basketball arena the Royal Brougham Pavilion. (This went nicely with a University of Washington rowing shell also named in his honor.)
Such were Royal Brougham’s accomplishments that in 1946 the Seattle/King County Association of Realtors named him Seattle's "First Citizen." In being named for the Realtor award, the group bypassed the usual crop of business and financial leaders to honor Brougham’s work in aid of American servicemen, not to mention his promotion of recreational amenities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Brougham received his plaque -- presented by longtime friend, boxer Jack Dempsey (1895-1983) -- on January 16, 1947, at a banquet at Seattle's Olympic Hotel.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Perhaps the most extraordinary story behind Royal Brougham’s community involvement comes from his friendship with one man: Portus Baxter, Brougham’s predecessor as P-I sports editor. Baxter was the man who originally hired Brougham, and when Baxter retired in the early 1920s, Brougham made sure to keep him on the payroll at $5 per week. In addition, Brougham regularly performed odd tasks for Baxter over the years, and was one of the man’s few regular visitors after Baxter’s wife passed away in the 1930s.
When Portus Baxter died in 1962 he had no heirs, so in return for Brougham’s years of kindness, Baxter named him as the recipient of a $300,000 inheritance. It was an unexpected windfall, but not one that prompted Brougham to retire and enjoy the good life. Instead, he chose to give most of this fortune away.
After separating out $50,000 for his daughter and three grandchildren (Brougham married his wife Alice in 1915), in 1966 he created the Royal Brougham Foundation, intent on helping those less fortunate. “The Lord and this community have always been good to me,” Brougham remarked at the time. “I’ve just giving the money spent to enrich back to where it came from.” The fact that he was choosing to give away such a large sum didn’t faze him in the slightest. “I don’t see anything startling about it. I’m going to have the enjoyment of watching the money spent to enrich the lives of boys and girls. They have always been my favorite people ... Besides, it will be an interesting change to be sort of poor again. And it will keep a guy humble” (“Brougham Gives Away Fortune”). The $250,000 fund was established for grants and interest-free loans for securing counselors for boys' and girls' camps, funding Christian missionary efforts in foreign countries, and providing tuition for students in church-related schools or colleges. (As of 2003, Brougham’s fund had grown to more than $1 million, and was being administered through CHRISTA Ministries in Shoreline.)
A Fond Farewell
Royal Brougham continued to be a mainstay at the Post-Intelligencer throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was named an associate editor of the paper in 1968. But on October 30, 1978, just 10 days after a banquet was held in his honor at the Washington Athletic Club (that same day was proclaimed “Royal Brougham Appreciation Day” by Seattle and King County), the veteran sportswriter died at age 84. Brougham passed on after suffering a massive heart attack in a Kingdome press box during the closing minutes of a Seattle Seahawks/Denver Broncos football game. Brougham was rushed to Swedish Hospital, and as he was being wheeled from the stadium toward a waiting ambulance, he made sure to ask an elevator operator for the score (“The Life and Times of Royal Brougham”). The Seahawks lost, 20-17.
Nearly 500 of the city’s most prominent citizens gathered at First Presbyterian Church for Brougham’s funeral on November 3, 1978. Brougham played a part in his own service, with tape recordings of a recent interview being played for the gathered crowd. He remarked how he had met some wondrous personalities during his time, but there was still one more to meet. “The greatest thrill I’ll ever have is to come face-to-face with Him in the land that every Christian looks forward to,” Brougham said. (“Hundreds from all Walks in Farewell to Brougham”).
Longtime friend Emmett Watson (1918-2001) remembered Royal Brougham shortly after his death. “At his best, he had the surest instinct for a story of any man I ever knew,” Watson noted. “He had an uncanny sense for what quickened the reader’s interest, for what held him, and brought him back. This transcended R.B.’s faulty punctuation and his frequent misspellings. Once when I called him down on some minor misusage, he looked up and replied ‘Thanks, kid, but you had a better education than I did. Nobody ever taught me these things’” (R.B. – R.I.P.”).
A quarter century after his death, P-I reporter Dan Raley recalled Brougham’s legacy:
“Most local sports fans under 40 couldn’t tell you who Brougham was or what he did. Yet from the outbreak of World War I through the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Brougham was a slight man who became a larger-than-life character, persistently sticking his nose into everything involving the local sporting landscape. When he wasn’t extolling the virtues of Seattle, Brougham was reaching out to some of the nation’s biggest athletic names -- among them Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Jessie Owens and Babe Didrikson Zaharias -- and coaxing them to travel to the Pacific Northwest as his guest for some charitable cause” (“The Life and Times of Royal Brougham”).
In 1979, a year following his death, Brougham's peers nominated him to the State Hall of Journalistic Achievement. That same year saw a four-lane street near the Kingdome (formerly South Connecticut Street, which in 2005 runs between Safeco Field and Qwest Stadium) named after the late sportswriter -- South Royal Brougham Way. The honor was supported by columnist Emmett Watson, and sponsored on the city council by Councilman George Benson (1919-2004).