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Tuesday, 19 March 2019 07:29 am

Tricky Dick in the White House among memories of long career

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BADGE OF HONOUR: Terry Brown with a pen given by Richard Nixon.

THE US president’s gold-embossed emblem gleams on the yellowing pen box Terry Brown has fished from a stash of keepsakes.

The journalist of 50 years’ experience recalls Richard Nixon giving the pen sets to journalists covering the White House.

“You know he was called ‘Tricky Dick’?” says Terry. “That pen never worked. All it did the first time I tried to use it, it deposited a large blot of ink.”

The navy Parker is a prized item in his Mt Victoria home stacked with memorabilia – and plants. 

Plants line the floor and fill every nook in the conservatory where Terry lounges in an outdoor chair.

He has more time for gardening now. Terry retired in 2008 from the role of editorial policy manager at Radio New Zealand. 

But with some prompting you can get him talking about his days as news correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in America where, for six years from 1967, he documented numerous landmark events. 

The assassination of Martin Luther King; Richard Nixon in the White House; lunar expeditions and man walking on the moon, anti-Vietnam war demonstrators amid saturation television coverage of war casualties in body bags; the civil rights movement. It was a busy era for Terry Brown at a pivotal time in recent American history.

Wearing his habitual slacks, long-sleeved shirt and navy zip-up vest, he talks animatedly of his time as a young, clean-shaven junior watching Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969.  “Everything would vibrate when that huge rocket went up,” he says. “There was a bang, like a huge thunderclap. It was absolutely amazing.”

Terry11Covering the lunar series became his forte and Terry was among the world media watching on a big screen outside NASA in Houston, Texas, as Neil Armstrong took his momentous steps. 

Terry leans forward in his chair. 

“You can imagine what that was like,” he says in his soft voice.  

If America and Canada were his territory, then New York and the United Nations headquarters were his local beat. Terry kept in close contact with the diplomatic scene and attached himself like a limpet to visiting Australian dignitaries. 

While he says his accent opened many doors, being a strapping New Zealand lad wasn’t always an advantage, particularly during the racially charged atmosphere of the civil rights movement. More specifically, Martin Luther King’s funeral in Atlanta. 

“All the kids were out on the streets. And when we went to the Ebenezer Baptist Church they were throwing rocks at us. We were white people in an unfortunately bright red car.”   

Terry returned to the car after the funeral to find a brick through the rear window. 

Even New York was a dangerous place to be and Terry had members of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People escort him into the poverty-stricken areas. 

Terry’s blue eyes turn serious as he recalls driving down Tenth Avenue in a taxi and seeing a black man collapse on the sidewalk.  

Shot by red-necks driving round in a convertible looking for trouble, the man was a school teacher on holiday from Texas, who survived to become one of Terry’s feature stories.

With the deaths in 1968 of Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and President Eisenhower in 1969, Terry was dubbed the funereal correspondent.   He recalls flying to Abilene, Kansas to interview the family of Dwight Eisenhower – the president who helped bring an armistice to Korea but built a stash of nuclear weapons as the Cold War deepened.  

On the flight to meet the mourning train, turbulence caused Terry’s wallet, with his media credentials, to fall into the stainless steel “john” and slide into the holding tank – to the detriment of an apoplectic airline employee who had to don gloves and search (unsuccessfully) for it.   

Terry chuckles at the memory, glancing around as the ranchslider opens and Julianne Brabant, his soon-to-be second wife, breezes out from the dining room. 

Terry on his 1970 United Nations accreditation.

Terry on his 1970 United Nations accreditation.

“My live-in maid” he describes her when she is safely out of earshot making coffee in the kitchen. Julianne and Terry will marry in Nelson next month at the house of friends, companions with whom they have explored China and Nepal. 

Terry’s house is littered with artefacts from various continents. The colourful cushions on the dining room chairs, oriental rugs covering the floor and pictures were picked up on their travels.  

Not bad for a poor Christchurch boy from the “wrong side of the tracks”. Slowly swinging his reading glasses, Terry describes his family as “battlers”. 

“We lived in a state house – John Key and I have got a lot in common.” 

As a boy, Terry was unaware of his heritage (Ngai Tahu through his maternal great-grandmother) until his grandfather’s funeral. His younger sister elbowed him, drawing his attention to two Maori men wearing feather cloaks standing near the gate.   

“This started the process to discover who we were.  It was sort of an awakening.” 

His Maori-pakeha grandfather had been adopted out to Greek parents – a taboo topic within the family. 

As a kaumatua, Terry now recognises himself as Maori in the census.  

Watching spaceships launch became so repetitive Terry talked his boss out of sending him down to the launch of Apollo 13, something quickly remedied following an abusive early morning call from Australia.

Watching spaceships launch became so repetitive Terry talked his boss out of sending him down to the launch of Apollo 13, something quickly remedied following an abusive early morning call from Australia.

After Linwood High School, Terry began journalism in 1959 as a cadet at the Christchurch Star.  Following  two years gaining worldly experience in Timaru, Terry was poached by the Otago Daily Times

For several years Dunedin was his home before he sailed for Fleet St with flatmate Athol Meyer in 1963. Their money ran out across the Tasman so they disembarked in Sydney instead. 

Following a spate of nefarious activities like selling cigarettes door to door and working for a weekly, Terry began his 35-year career as a broadcaster with the ABC.   Both men were transferred to Tasmania, where Terry says he absorbed everything radio for two years – and got hooked. 

A girlfriend drew Terry back to Sydney. Athol stayed in Tasmania, where he later became a local MP and a gentleman farmer, while Terry married in 1967, and set off with his new wife to America that same day, aged 26.

Or that was the plan. “That ship sailed without us.”

Luckily a friend in PR at Air New Zealand bumped passengers off a flight to Wellington so they could catch the ship and an embarrassed captain.

“That was an interesting start to a career and a marriage.”

Along with journalism, another enduring passion in Terry’s life is rugby.  It is to blame for the slight stoop in his tall frame: He broke his back during a Sydney game. “I was told I wouldn’t play rugby again,” he says. “The first thing I did when I got to New York…was look up rugby in the phone book.  And I found New York Rugby Club – which turned out to be an Irish bar on Third Avenue.” 

He went from the pub to the national side, playing for the American All-star team against Sid Going’s All Black team in 1972.   

What was the score? His answer is immediate. NZ won 40 – 10. 

He stops talking to admonish Maizie, his white West Highland, who obediently stops scratching.  “I wish everyone in my life was that obedient,” he says laughing, probably thinking of his radio students at Whitireia.   

Terry has been tutoring at the polytechnic’s Cuba St campus since 2008, after retiring a second time.

The first was in 1998. On that occasion, he left the ABC to tutor journalism part-time at Monash University in Melbourne while studying disabilities at Deakin University, inspired by his 36-year-old disabled daughter Chrissie.

In 2000 he returned to NZ to be closer to Julianne and lead a more relaxed lifestyle. But Terry got bored with golf and gardening after three months, so became editorial policy manager at Radio New Zealand.  

During eight years there, Terry developed media in-house training systems – the best in the country, according to friend and colleague Jim Tucker, head of journalism at Whitireia.  

The two veteran journos first met in 2005 on the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation where Terry has been involved since his return to his home country. 


Terry's life is full of women. Teigenes lives in the Marlborough Sounds. Terry and Julianne try to spend as much time as possible on her 32 foot decks.

Jim has only praise for Terry and his dedication to looking after young journalists. 

“Intrinsically he’s a teacher, as well as a damn good journalist,” says Jim. “He’s a deceptive guy, actually. You think that he is sort of big and quiet and gentle but he’s got really strong principles.” 

Through experience Terry says he has learnt to look grave, nod and hope no-one asks questions.   

He doesn’t fool anybody.  

As soon as he retired from Radio NZ Jim snapped him up as a radio tutor.  Students there are terrified of the high standards he upholds. “You just don’t want to disappoint him,” one says. 

A call from his youngest daughter, Hayley, in the UK interrupts the conversation and he promises to call her back when time constraints allow. The glasses swing faster. 

Terry keeps his finger on the pulse in the radio world with visits to the Ohariu Golf Club with the Morning Report team every Friday afternoon. 

Presenter Sean Plunkett believes Terry’s performance on the golf course reflects his career: Very deliberate, a bit canny and nothing too flash, but he keeps his eye on the ball.   Sean misses having robust arguments with Terry at Radio NZ. He remembers one over the use of the word “Kiwis” to describe New Zealanders, something Terry hates in formal news writing. 

Terry always played the ball and not the man, Sean says. “He wouldn’t pull rank, he would always argue the point. I think we never resolved the ‘Kiwi’ argument but it was never taken personally that I disagreed with him.”   

His colleagues use many words to describe Terry: pragmatic, collegial, principled and passionate.   “A rock of a guy,” Jim Tucker sums up. 

Terry himself says he has had “such a fantastic run as a journalist I’m not sure that anything sticks out”.  He says he likes teaching and being involved with young people entering journalism. “I have always thought of that as being able to give things back in terms of my experience. 

He chews his glasses pondering the question. 

“I could tell you that playing the All Blacks was a highlight, but not compared to all the other things I have been able to do. 

“I have been a lucky boy. Absolutely.”

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