Bing Brown: A Man With A Million Stories

PAYSON PEOPLE

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You'd better have some free time on your hands if you ask Bing Brown a question. Any question. Because he won't give you an answer; he'll give you a story.

But it'll be a great story.

For example, ask this retired photojournalist, newspaper writer and radio personality how James Carrington Brown III got the nickname "Bing."

"There are so many James Browns in the world," begins this Brown, who looks nothing like the name's most soulful owner. "The day I was born, Mom was in the hospital this was in the days when you weren't sent home instantly and the doctor came by to see her. He said, 'How's it going, Ginny?' She said, 'Pretty well. I feel a little weak and I've got a headache. And whoever that kid is who's down the hall and screaming his lungs out isn't helping.' So the doctor stuck his head out into the hall and yelled, 'Shut up, Bing!' And suddenly, there was silence. My mom said, 'Damn, if it works that well, that's what I'm going to call him.'

"Subsequently, on a number of occasions before her passing, my mother told me that, if it was me, that was the only time it ever worked, and that I hadn't been quiet since. But that's how Bing came about."

That story unfolded in Wilmington, Del., circa 1939. Six years later, Brown's family drove an old Studebaker to Prescott in 1945 in hopes the relocation would alleviate his brothers' severe lung problems. There, his clan became purebred-Hereford ranchers, and Brown got to grow up in an Arizona town he says was "Fantastic. In a lot of ways, it was very much like what Payson is today."

Upon graduating from high school in 1957, Brown set his sights on becoming a radio disk jockey. His wish came true, sort of, when he was hired to recite between-show station identifications on Prescott's one and only station, KYCA, which had an output power of 250-watts enough to illuminate three or four light bulbs.

"We were able to be heard outside of the town limits most of the time," Brown says with mock braggadocio. "It wasn't exactly Radio City, New York. But that's what I did one morning a week, every Sunday. That was my first regular job."

But it wasn't his first "real" job. That came earlier.

"I was a 'skunk tender,'" Brown reveals, launching into another story. "The veterinarian who treated out cattle had a sideline business. People would call him and say, 'There's a skunk under my house!,' and he'd go and get it out of there. Then he'd take them back to an old barn and mate them.

"If you try to de-scent adult skunks, the mortality rate is high. But you could de-scent the kittens and sell them to pet stores. So not only was he being paid to remove the skunk from the premises, he was also making a bundle on the side selling little skunks as pets. People buy ferrets, people buy sugar gliders. Skunks are great; some will curl up in your lap just like a cat.

"I got paid 50 cents an hour for that, and I never got sprayed. But it didn't look like a profession with a future, and it was hard work.

"The more I listened to my Dad, who'd been a schoolteacher, I realized that you could make a living with words. That sounded a lot more appealing to me."

Brown's career in written words began when he found work in the Valley as a stringer-reporter for United Press Syndicate, which paid him two or three cents a word. That led to a short-lived stint with Phoenix radio station KOY and a patented Brown story about his almost immediate firing by Bill Close, Arizona's newscasting-legend-to-be.

He returned home to Prescott and landed further employment as a writer/photographer for the Prescott Courier "The only place where I was hired and fired three times in the course of one afternoon," Brown says with pride.

Soon he was back in the Valley, writing obituaries for the Phoenix Gazette, and soon he became that publication's "Scottsdale bureau chief" a fancy title, Brown discovered, for a combination janitor/file clerk/everything else.

"It was like being a husband," he recalls. "You get to claim that you're the head of the house, but you also have to take out the garbage and you get blamed for everything."

In 1965, he got yet another job and seizable pay-raise offer from Salt River Project, where Brown spent the next 24 years managing the company's public relations department. A massive downsizing in 1988 ended his tenure and "hurt like hell," he says, but it launched both Brown and his wife of 40 years, Carol, into the world of freelance writing and photography which they've since done for such national publications as Sunset Magazine, Arizona Highways, AAA High Roads and "scads of others."

In the meantime, Brown scored another full-time job: running the Phoenix Water Department's public relations division. That 10-year term of employment didn't end until last October, he says, "when I retired for the second time, this time by choice, and came to Payson."

And today?

"Life couldn't be better," Brown says with a satisfied grin. "I can accept the stories I want to write, on the schedule I want to do them."

And when Bing Brown isn't writing stories, of course, he now has the time to tell them.

Profile

Name: James Carrington "Bing" Brown III

Occupation: Semi-retired freelance writer, photographer, editor and teacher.

Age: 62

Birthplace: Wilmington, Del.

Family: Wife, Carol Osman Brown (married 40 years); sons Jim and Bryan, both musicians working in Los Angeles.

Personal motto: Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If."

Inspiration: God, nature, parents, family and friends.

Greatest feat: Two sons who live ethically.

My favorite hobby or leisure activity is ... cooking (around the house), fishing (outside).

The three words that describe me best are ... Love, loyalty, honor.

I don't want to brag, but ... My wife and I make a great writing/photography/teaching team.

The person in history I'd most like to meet is ... Jesus.

Luxury defined: Having the resources and time to do what you want.

Dream vacation spot: New Zealand.

Why Payson? Great people, great place, great climate.

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