Brett Johnson touched so many people's lives, none more so than the folks he worked with at NBC 5.
He was known as a straight-shooter, who had a way with words. As the NBC 5 family copes with the loss of a colleague and friend, staff members share their fondest memories of Brett.
(Check back for more stories -- the stories continue to flow in, we think of it as therapy as we come to grips with the loss)
Brett was talking about his instruments, including his new ukulele, and telling me all about them then he asked me if I wanted him to play, I said that's ok. He said I can go home and get it and then ran out the door and since he lives down the street it didn't take him long. He sat down near the news desk and played a couple of songs, I took a couple of pics with my phone and told him I would put it on my Twitter, he said ok whatever!
Fiorella Alvarez, Assignment Desk
ONE of my favorite Brett Johnson stories. I have a few. I stop by his house to borrow a DVD, and and the next thing I know, he has whipped out his guitar and started playing and singing song after song after song and he's saying, "You know this one? You don't know this one? Come on, listen, -- you gotta know this one, right?" Then finally he seems slightly frustrated and says, "Do you listen to ANY GOOD MUSIC??"
Kristi Nelson, Anchor-Reporter
I have so many questions about why our friend left us so early. But there is only one that I suspect Brett would tell me was worth worrying about.
Who will fry the turkey?
You see, every Thanksgiving Brett would fry a turkey on live TV. He'd start at the top of the 4:00 newscast. By the end of the show, Kristi Nelson and I would join Brett in the parking lot to sample his work. A juicy perk of the job. Flawless every time. What viewers never saw was the stampede of co-workers who'd duck out the back door in commercial breaks to steal a nibble or two of Brett's masterpiece.
Thanks to Brett, any of us could probably do the job. NBC5 has to be the only television station in America where almost everyone knows how to inject the perfect blend of spices into the bird's breast. I'm certain we will fry a turkey this year in Brett's honor. But the ritual will never be quite the same without Brett in his cowboy hat and apron standing over a bubbling vat of oil. And his laughter.
Rest easy, my friend. We already miss you. And we will never forget you -- especially on Thanksgiving.
Brian Curtis, Anchor-Reporter
My fondest memory was when Brett helped my son Larry, pick out his first acoustic guitar. Brett insisted that we meet at the Guitar Center one Saturday morning. They must have looked and played for hours, but of course Brett and Larry were all into it. Especially Brett of course, I enjoyed watching them, as they picked out guitars, and jammed some tunes together. It was like Brett was the dad and I was the friend, it was PRICELESS,.... I will never forget when Brett told the sales guy as he walked up, "We'll take this one", both of them had a great BIG GRIN from one ear to the other as the sales guy took the guitar. My son will always cherish the black Epiphone that Brett helped him pick out. As for me, I am sad to have lost such a great colleague, but very grateful to have had Brett as a friend to my son and I.
Victor Dominguez, Chief Photojournalist
Heart. Brett had heart. That's why it's ironic that the one thing that I loved most about him is what ended up stopping him.
Brett had passion. He loved music. He loved food. He loved Texas. And he loved to share those loves.
He rarely came back from a story empty-handed. Whether it was the Parker County peaches, or his annual story on the great food you can find at various North Texas gas stations, Brett always brought back a bag of goodies. He brought in goodies from his mother's oven. And he had to set some sort of record for frying everyone's turkey the day before Thanksgiving.
Brett had a special place in his heart for my oldest son. He came back from most of his stories (and several vacations) with gifts for Trent. He brought toys from Mexico and key chains from Austin. I'll cherish the little 6 month Luckenbach shirt he bought Trent because he thought we could groom the next great SXSW star.
I sat last night and listened to the CD Brett dropped off a few weeks ago. He crossed 360 and drove to Dallas when I was on maternity leave because I "just had to hear the music." I sat and cried because I knew it would be the last CD he ever gave me. But I also laughed-- remembering the Brett we all love. And knowing he wants us to remember him with a smile, some music, and some good grub.
Shannon Hammel, Managing Editor
When the temperatures started getting above 95 degrees, Brett Johnson would start wearing his NBC 5 polo shirts. Shortly after I started working at NBC 5, I walked into our studios on one of those sweltering days, wearing my suit and tie. Brett bee-lined over to me and said "Are you going to prom? Why are you dressed in a suit? Are you crazy? It's 100 degrees outside!" He proceeded to walk me over to management, and demanded that they order me some NBC 5 polo's to wear in the heat. Brett was a "tell it like it is" type guy, and in this business, that makes him special. I'll miss Brett, and I promise to wear my NBC 5 polo when it gets over 100 degrees.
Omar Villafranca, Reporter
Brett Johnson was more than just a co-worker, he was my friend. We never went out boozing together, we never played golf together, but in some ways his friendship was much more important to me than just a pal to blow off steam with. Brett was my NBC5 consigliore (trusted advisor) who made me laugh every time we spoke.
When the news business, along with the economy, seemed to be imploding before our eyes, Brett was able to re-assure me that our jobs were safe. “We are reporters,” he commanded, “We do all the work! We find the stories, We write the stories, we write for the anchors, we write for the producers, hell we even write for the web now! We do everyone’s jobs!” he howled, pointing frantically at everyone else in the news room.
His humor, and grumpiness, was refreshing. As a native New Yorker, Brett reminded me of my friends from home, he told it like it was. It’s a quality that got us both in hot water more than a few times. But make no mistake, beyond the griping, which I think was partly for humorous effect, was a loyal friend who I will sincerely miss.
In some ways Brett and I were opposites, him a good ole’ country boy, and me the native New Yorker. But those who knew us both quickly realized Brett and I had a lot in common. We both use foul language as part of our everyday speech, we both talk as if we were hollering to someone 100 yards away and most importantly, we strive to dress casual at work. As soon as the temperature hits 85 degrees Brett and I are the first ones to start sporting the NBC5 polo shirts.
I will never forget the last thing Brett said to me, just a two weeks ago, “Stinch, Will you tell our fellow F-ing reporters who find the need to dress up like their headed to the F-ing prom to put a polo shirt on! It’s 100 degrees out there and they’re making us look bad.”
From now on, whenever I put that NBC5 polo shirt on, I will be thinking of my friend Brett Johnson, a true Texas legend.
Grant Stinchfield, Reporter
How Texan was Brett? This is my favorite story. He walks into my office after seeing the movie "Brokeback Mountain." A girlfriend wanted to go, so being a gentleman he obliged. There was something in particular about the movie that offended his Texas sensibilities, and if you're assuming you know what it is, you're probably way off base. Brett was irate that the movie critics and media referred to the men as "cowboys". Brett pointed out to me they were actually sheep herders. He asked me "you're from Texas, you agree with me that cowboys herd cows, sheep herders herd sheep, right?" He was highly offended by the inaccuracy of the definition of the word "cowboy". The rest of the movie, he was okay with.
Susan Tully, VP of News
Gee it is sad about Brett Johnson. I considered him more a friend than just a co-worker. We always had something funny to talk about... sometimes work. He knew everyone in Fort Worth, and he was always happy to help, even if you called him on his day off. But more often it was other things... He turned me on to Red Dirt Music! He was WAY too young.
Ken Kalthoff, Reporter
My favorite Brett story took place in Austin a few years ago at SXSW. Brett, my wife and I were all staying at a mutual friend's house, but Brett got there before us. We arrived, and Kelly's introduction to Brett was him, sitting in his t-shirt and underwear, picking on a guitar. Brett didn't act embarrassed, nor made any attempt to cover up, just nodded his hello and kept on playing. That was Brett - unashamed, and focused on the music!
Mike Wortham, Producer
I remember the first time I met Brett about 2 years ago at the station in Ft. Worth. I'd been on the air a few times already and he said I haven't seen you on TV yet, but my mom said you do a good job. So, in that case, you're alright by me! Brett, you were one of a kind! We will truly miss you.
Ellen Goldberg, Reporter
Brett Johnson was the only person in the world who called me "Dude" every time I saw him. "What's up Dude?" "How are you Dude?" I loved it. It was characteristic of Brett's easy going Texas style. He loved his home state, and his hometown of Ft. Worth. You could see it in the stories he told, and in the way his eyes lit up when he talked about his favorite spots across Texas. When I made a recent trip to the Hill Country, it was Brett who recommended the local BBQ places to visit, and convinced me to make a stop in Luckenbach, the town where he shot one of the many stories we will never forget. Dude, we will miss you so much.
Scott Friedman, Anchor-Reporter
I shared a lot of laughter with Brett, but I'll never forget walking into the NBC 5 newsroom and catching him strum a mini-guitar behind the news desk in his Indiana Jones looking hat. That seems to be a fitting image for a man who loved music as much as he did.
Noah Bullard, Photojournalist
My friend was Country and Blues,
I'm R and B and Hip Hop,
If you see me in a Suit and Wingtips,
You'd find My Friend in Shorts and Flip Flops,
I prefer a nice Cigar,
My friend, a glass of Wine,
When I eat, I like 5-star,
For My friend a local dive is just fine,
I'm a Yankee from Ohio,
My friend a Southerner from Fort Worth,
We both work in Oklahoma,
Chasing Stories in that Red dirt,
My friend used to say he was too Ugly for TV, I never agreed,
I'd say, I'm bigger than most in our profession people are flat out scared of me,
I will miss the Parties with my friend, occasionally we closed a Bar,
My friend was known to serenade anyone who'd listen, with a song on his guitar,
I can still hear him singing, that folksy Baritone we all knew.
My Friend is Brett Johnson, Damn Brett I Miss You!
Randy McIlwain, Reporter
Everyone looked forward to a day with Brett for three reasons.
First, you were sure to get lunch. Brett knew every little hole in the wall in all of Tarrant county. He loved a good burger or some really spicy Tex Mex but I suspect he choose some of the places because they had pretty girls taking your order.
Second, Brett was a fast writer. He set up his stories quickly because no matter what the subject he knew someone or went to high school with someone who could give us the interview we needed. No one else could afford to loose a half hour to grab a bite but Brett could write his stories without looking at the video. He remembered all his interviews verbatim. Heck, Brett could quote whole scenes from most movies or TV shows. You could spend the entire day talking about movie or music trivia. I learned a lot about the Beatles and Elvis.
Third, if you worked with Brett you were certain to have a good belly laugh that day. Even in the most stressful situations, at some point Brett would come up with a one-liner in that dry sarcastic way that would just crack you up.
Brett was really a good friend, a true Texan, and great journalist and his memory along with his stories will live on forever. We will miss him and his laugh here at Channel 5.
Linda Angelle, Photojournalist
Merely several weeks ago I had a Brett Johnson 'run in.' But I never minded running into him because he made me laugh. This particular time, I was running, Red Bull in one hand, work bag haphazardly swung over my shoulder ... shades falling off my face. He was holding the newsroom door open, sweating in the heat. The look on his face was one of ... "can you hurry up please, I don't really feel like standing here all day..." I was walking as fast as I could, but I had worn particularly high heels that day. I said "Sorry, I'm going as fast as I can!" to which he replied, "That's what you get for wearing those damn heels. What the hell is wrong with you?! [laughing] I told him I knew it was impractical but I liked 'em. He said, "Well, then that's all that matters -- isn't it?"
Annie Potasznik, Around Town Correspondent
My first memory of Brett was on my first day at Channel 5. He wanted to show me a purse he bought for one of his friends made of old Beatles album covers. Like so many other people, Brett and I discovered we both spoke the universal language of music. We talked about it nearly every time we saw each other. The last time we spoke was the day he got out of the hospital a few weeks ago. I wish I had known that would be our final goodbye. I would have told him how much I enjoyed working with him, and how much I learned from his storytelling.
Lindsay Wilcox, Reporter
I have two stories about Brett Johnson I would like to share. The first being the Fort Worth Parade of Lights in 2007 and the other being the landing of space shuttle Endeavor late last year.
After the parade of lights, traffic was a nightmare. I had finished taking photos for the Web site, but photojournalist Juan Rodriguez wasn't quite ready to leave yet, so I killed some time with Brett at 8.0. After a drink, Juan still wasn't quite ready, so I offered to give Brett a ride back to the station. I have lived here for most of my life and know my way around town better than anyone -- or so I thought. After sitting in traffic for not more than three minutes, Brett turned and said to me: "You don't have a clue where you're going, do you?" I told him how I had planned to get back to the station and he simply said, "No, no, no. Go this way." Brett slipped us past thousands of cars sitting, idling in traffic all trying to get home. In less than 10 minutes, we had completely escaped downtown and made it back to the station without running into any further traffic. For my ability to follow directions, Brett shared with me two little bottles of red wine, though he requested I return the empties. At this point, having known Brett for 7 years, I knew he liked wine but didn't know he carried around little bottles in his backpack -- nor did I know he requested the empties. A couple of weeks went by and all my questions were answered when Brett came up to my desk and handed me two tiny wine bottles now refilled ... this time with his mother's homemade Kahlua.
The second memory, and one I will likely never forget, took place in December of 2008 when I hopped in the news van with Brett and photojournalist Linda Angelle to cover the landing of space shuttle Endeavor at Fort Worth's NASJRB. Brett has seen a lot and met a lot of interesting people in his career and was always able to pass the time with a great story. If not for the visual in front of us, his storytelling ability would have come in handy since NASA had all media waiting outside of their vehicles while the shuttle was carried into a security perimeter on a very windy, cold December day. As it turned out, neither Brett or Linda or I said much at all --I suppose we were somewhat spellbound at the site of the space shuttle perched on top of a 747. We spent that time doing nothing more than really staring at this spaceship like kids -- while making the occasional comment about how cool it was to see this thing in person. I find it a little ironic that on the day I share this story, the space shuttle Endeavor is back on the launch pad for its first trip to space since visiting Fort Worth last December.
Brett was an incredibly funny, dry, sarcastic guy who loved what he did for a living. He was generous with his time, his wine and and music (which he shared with me on more than one occasion). It's hard to imagine NBC 5 without him. He is already missed.
Frank Heinz, Managing Editor, NBCDFW.com
I don't really have one story in particular that stands out about my friend.
I have lots and lots of good memories. From scuba diving to SXSW to Luckenbach to just messing around town, I always enjoyed hanging with him.
Working with him was just as easy as could be.
He loved his mother, his music and his dogs. He also loved wine and women.
We had more in common when I was single.
Brett spoke at my wedding. He just took the mic and told a couple of funny stories about me and Jayme. I was proud to have my mother know Brett Johnson was my friend.
I hadn't seen him in a long while outside work, but just last week he came to visit me. He saw how my kids have grown and said "Damn they're big." We sat on the sofa for awhile and caught up. Brett was still Brett and we picked up right where we left off. Funny how life changes, but we still remain the same people.
When he jumped in his little sports car to leave I told him that I'd catch up with him again one day. I just didn't know it would be in heaven.
Juan Rodriguez, Photojournalist
Brett was a man's man, and a reporter's reporter. His wonderful wit and wonderful ability to make others laugh were just some of his strong suits. Brett introduced me to Stevie Ray Vaughn, and helped this musically challenged guy more times than I can count. Brett was most at home spinning yarns about his beloved Texas, everything Texas, especially if music could be weaved into the story. But, Brett was an even better at being a friend. He had a unique ability to see you having a rotten day and saying just the right thing, spitting out the right passage of a song or just giving you that impish grin that would snap you out of it. What a loss for all of us who were fortunate to call Brett friend, what a loss for all of those at home who didn't know Brett personally but enjoyed his stories on NBC-5. We will miss you Brett, but we will never forget you.
Mike Snyder, Anchor
When I moved to Texas to work for Channel 5, Brett introduced himself and told me that he would be appalled if I didn't go out and buy a pair of cowboy boots. I did, and everytime I wore them, Brett was so pleased. He made me pull up my suit pants and he would judge how often I was really wearing them by how worn they were. He loved Texas culture and was proud to teach this South Carolina girl about, "the real South." Brett understood the value in spending quality moments with people. He was real. A thoughtful, wonderfully sarcastic and fun-loving man. Brett, I miss you already. I'll think of you and smile everytime I put on those boots.
Meredith Land, Anchor-Reporter
Brett Johnson loved food, wine, good music, movies and was always willing to share. When I first met Brett as the 5 p.m. producer here at NBC 5 he tried to sass me - but I sassed him right back and that was it - we were fast friends. The way Brett loved to share is what I'll remember the most, it never failed if he was on a story that involved food he would always bring us something back and it was never the good healthy stuff it was bread pudding, banana pudding and Tiramisu (Brett knew that was my favorite) - and we had to share a bite no matter if I was on a diet or not. He always made sure we had black eyed peas on New Year's day (for good luck) his mom's homemade Kahlua at Christmas or her special desert with chocolate pudding, cool whip and fresh pecans from Brett's front yard. And who can forget fried turkeys at Thanksgiving, a week out Brett would email me and remind me to bring in my own turkey for frying, he would make sure I knew how much it should weigh and that it should be thawed before he could cook it. It also never failed each and every Christmas, I would walk into the newsroom and there would be a bottle of red wine "hidden" under my desk - I knew it was from Brett - one of our favorites was "Red Guitar" fitting considering Brett loved to play and never went to a party without one of his guitars.
Jane Geelan, Senior Producer
Brett was more than just a reporter. He was one of the best story-tellers I have ever worked with.
I vividly remember a story several years ago about a company that manufactured bricks. Most reporters would have played it straight. But Brett had a wonderful, playful sense of humor. Standing in the brickyard as a truck lumbered by, loaded down with fresh-made bricks, he reached out and snatched one brick off the back of the truck. Turning to the camera, he grinned sheepishly, and quipped, "Now that truck is one brick shy of a full load."
It was that kind of inventive storytelling that made Brett stand out. And besides, he was the only one at the station who could wear a cowboy hat and look completely natural. Brett was a genuine Texan. We'll miss him.
David Finfrock, Chief Meteorologist
When I went to the hospital to see Brett for the last time Saturday night, his family had gone to dinner. I was greeted by a lone nurse, who broke out in a big smile when I mentioned Brett's name. I think even in the short time he was there, Brett had the same effect on the hospital staff he always had in the newsroom.
You couldn't help but smile when you saw Brett. He always had a twinkle in his eye. He was a little mischievious, but he was the most sincere guy you would ever meet.
What Brett said, he meant.
Most of the time Brett would stroll through, on his way to the next "fun" story he had discovered. That was really the essence of Brett. He discovered "fun" in life every day he lived.
He lived for the moment. A quality I think gave him the unique ability to enjoy each and every day, whatever it brought his way.
I don't know where or when he started calling me this, but I don't ever remember Brett calling me anything but "Yane-ette". It was always said with true affection. It's hard to believe he won't say "Yane-ette" again. But I'm thankful for the simple joy he brought into my life for as long as it lasted.
Jane McGarry, Anchor
Brett Johnson taught me to love Texas.
Shortly after my wife and I moved here from her native Ohio and the southern shore of Lake Erie nine years ago, I casually mentioned to Brett that we missed living near a large body of water. Leaning in toward me, Brett lowered his voice and gruffly drawled "the Trinity may not be the Mississippi, but its a damn fine Texas river".
Brett was never happier than when sharing stories about his home. His love for all things Texas, and especially Fort Worth, opened my eyes to all the truly wonderful things this great state we now cherish offers.
Years later, I was able to repay him by preparing this proudest of Texans for his first trip ever to my native New England. When Brett returned, it brought tears to my eyes when he described in some great detail how beautiful it was there, raving about the taste of fresh "lobsta" and pronouncing that I was lucky to have been raised in such a place.
But, Brett quickly added, it still wasn't better than his native Texas, or its barbecue.
I don't believe I will ever be able to put on my Stetson or pull on my now beat-up ropers without thinking of Brett, and wiping away a tear realizing once again that I am forever fortunate to have known such a man.
Kevin Cokely, Anchor-Reporter
Four topics Brett and I would talk about endlessly: Fort Worth, Food, Travel and Music. We would always compare travel pictures and, of course, the best places to eat. Being a native of Fort Worth myself, Brett and I would reminisce of places gone by, the 1849 Village, Speak Easy, and that great Hamburger place, Candlelight on Vickery. We both loved Fort Worth so much. Every time I would mention some place to eat - he would say, already tried it, but have you been to ...He met a friend of mine at a restaurant once and my friend told him a nickname he always called me. Well, Brett never forgot anything, so from then on, I was always Marla Jo to him. Brett, you will be missed, your friend, Marla Jo.
Martha Stallard, Human Resources
My day would start with a phone call about a half hour before my shift.
"Mike...we need you in Ft Worth today, we've got you with Brett." After hanging up my reaction was always the same...DAMN!!
Now I'm in trouble, I have to get in the truck and stand on the gas, running the gauntlet of radar guns on I-20 to make it in from Ellis county. If I don't, I know what's about to happen. CJ, Lyle and Kevin are a hell of a lot closer and they are NOT working with Brett. As I speed west on I-20 I have visions of one of them bringing donuts, coffee or even cash to the assignment desk to steal my reporter. Thank God Juan is working nights or I'd really be in the thick of it. I make it past 360 and I check my watch, then I see it sitting just under the bridge, DAMN!!
I get a call from Brett, "Dude how far out are you?" I lie and tell him I'm close as I pull back on to I-20 after somehow talking my way out of a ticket with the Arlington traffic cop. "Cool, just meet me at the house." I smile and know that I won, Brett isn't even going in to the office.
This is something that If I had to guess was routine, to some extent, with every photographer Brett would work with. Even I was guilty of offering a small bribe to steal him from someone else but, I never felt guilty when it worked.
I loved shooting with Brett, it didn't matter what the story was, I just knew it was going to be a good day and that we were going to put something good on television. It really wasn't work, we were just doing our thing. It didn't matter if it was something we had to finish that day, or if it was a feature story that only he could do. I always knew it was going to work.
Our day would wrap up in the parking lot just talking, then forgetting that I picked him up at the house so we'd finish the conversation there.
We did a lot of that over the last 12 years. Brett was more than a guy I worked with...he was my friend.
My friend was there for all of it. He was the first one to walk in to the hospital with the bear under his arm when my son was born. He comforted my family when I had to run off and cover a war or drive into a hurricane. We shared good times and bad. I could pick up the phone at 2am and he was always there to listen. If I need a good kick in the butt, I got it. I had the pleasure of knowing Brett when the camera was locked away and will cherish every memory.
The last few days I found myself scrolling through my phone looking to make that 2am call, wishing I could make one more but, I don't have to...Brett is a little closer than we all know. I think a 2am prayer might work out just fine.
The drive to Ft Worth just might be a little slower now...
Mike Heimbuch, Photojournalist
Brett and I worked weekends together for years. When he was in the newsroom he was always sharing a little slice of his life... his mom's cooking, his music, and goodies from his reporting.
I always knew what kind of day he was having. He'd call me before the afternoon newscasts during the weekdays and say "Crispy, what show are you doing?" Knowing full well, I wasn't producing that day. He and I would spend the next half hour venting about the day. I'll miss those talks with him, and our chats about growing up in Fort Worth.
He loved sharing his photos from his travels... the Eiffel tower, Abbey Road, scuba diving at Cozumel, his trips to Playa. Brett could tell a story like no other. He traveled to many places I may never see, lived life to the fullest and never took life for granted.
Weekends will never be the same without him.
Paige Bacon, Producer
(Check back more stories -- the stories continue to flow in, we think of it as therapy as we come to grips with the loss)