Monday, June 18, 2007

Ray "Coach" Brown 1935-2007

I met Ray Brown when I was scouting locations for a shoot for Impact magazine. I was looking for a boxing ring and I heard that Citywide Boxing Club had a good look. It was a hollowed out warehouse, complete with a loading dock and a porta-john. It was perfect. After some negotiation, Coach let me use the space on a Sunday for a few hours, for a $100. I had pleaded poverty, but he stood firm. When the day came, he slept while we shot the promo, occasionally opening his eyes for playback. The spot came out decent and I heard it was well received at the Impact convention, which I never made it to. (That's another post.)

A few weeks later, I heard that Coach wanted to speak with me. I stopped by the gym, and after some kidding about my Alma mater, a frank assessment of my potential as a fighter, he told me what he wanted. He needed a video made about what he did at the gym. He told me how the boxing club worked, young kids paid what they could, while he taught them about boxing, giving them purpose and guidance. Then he asked me to do it for free. I told him I needed $100. Coach wasn't trying to hear that. He repeated my offer to his employees with incredulity in his voice. After a few minutes of staring and loud talk, we shook hands. I came back with my camera the following week.

After a couple of edits, he was happy with the video. I was touched by the devotion and admiration his boxers had for him. They accepted his instructions without question and carried them out with conviction. Coach told me later that he sent the tape somewhere and it was shown at a banquet where he received an award. We shook hands again and enjoyed mutual respect.

I saw Coach occasionally after that and filmed one of his fighters matches at a boxing competition. I stopped by to see him a few times, but I kept missing him by minutes. One day, one of his assistants at the gym told me he had fallen down and wouldn't be around for awhile. Several months later, I visited again and met his son. He told me his Dad was ill and seldom came to the gym. The look on his face told me whatever Coach was going through was serious. I asked him to tell his father that Craig from VCU said hello.

Last week, on the back of sports page of our daily paper there was picture of Coach below the headline Local Boxing Patron Dies It wasn't a good start to my morning.

Ray Brown may have never produced a Sweet Pea Whitaker or a Ray Leonard, but he provided leadership and direction to people who needed it. He didn't have to coach a champion to become one.

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