A trip down memory lane, and please excuse any unintentional lapses in gray matter, but its’ been a few years since Roger Brown and I sat on a stool at St. Elmo’s Steak House one afternoon and discussed a delicate matter that the mayor’s office asked me to mediate.
Brown, who died March 4, 1997, at 54 and far too soon, is acclaimed as one of the greatest players in the American Basketball Association, playing for the former Indiana Pacers when the franchise was part of the ABA.
(February 28, at 9 p.m., Channel 20, WFYI will present Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story with interviews with Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller, Bill Cosby and Bob Costas. If you never saw Brown play, here’s a chance to see his greatness.)
After the unified government act, known as Unigov, passed in 1970, the new City County Council provided for four at-large members, and in 1971, Brown was elected to one of those positions as a member of the Republican Party.
The exact year of my moment with ”the Rajah” escapes me, but the events leading up to it, I can never forget.
At the time, I was a reporter for The Indianapolis News covering half of the new city reorganization. My associate, the veteran city government reporter Hugh Rutledge, took the other half of municipal coverage. One of the departments of city government on my ”beat” was Public Safety, which included the fire and police departments.
From time-to-time, The News would get calls about a late model pink Cadillac zooming around town, mostly at night, with red lights flashing beneath the grill work.
In those days the afternoon newspaper had a weekly column labeled City Desk Memos, which contained tidbits not considered as major news events, but qualified as minor items worthy of mention. After, two or three reports about the colorful Cadillac, I wrote a short piece for City Desk Memos, in which I noted the driver was a mystery.
Well, not for long. An anonymous caller said the car belonged to Brown.
And, so began the search for the elusive truth.
As it turned out, Brown, still a city councilor, had become a deputy coroner, which enabled him to have the emergency lights on his personal vehicle.
One day, my phone rang in the offices of The News in the City-County Building asking me to come to the mayor’s office on the 25th floor of the City-County Building. At the time, Richard G. Lugar was mayor.
I can’t now recall who it was I spoke with, other than the person had a top-level appointed position in Lugar’s office.
The request to me, made on behalf of the city administration, was would I meet with Brown and delicately explain why he was getting so much ink about his red lights and Caddy.
Time has dimmed how or who arranged the meeting, other than it was mid-afternoon at St. Elmo’s.
Brown arrived on time, and after small talk I explained my mission and asked about the red lights.
I must say that there was nothing pretentious about him; he was quiet, reserved, truthful and a gentleman.
He said his emergency lights and authority as a deputy coroner allowed him access to incidents that had the potential of becoming more confrontational. He told me that because of his status as a professional athlete he felt his presence could prove a calming influence, which was supported by police officials I spoke with.
Then came the $64,000 question.
”What should I do to avoid this publicity” created by his car and lights, he asked?
I suggested a late model brown Chevrolet would not be a distraction.
Brown looked at me like I was from Mars, but after a further explanation, I think he got the message.
We shook hands and he thanked me.
I don’t know whether he took the advice, but the calls to the newspaper about a pink Cadillac with red lights were no more.