Former Courier publisher Brad Bradberry dies

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By Stephen Knapp

Ask anyone who had the good fortune to work with former Evergreen Newspapers publisher Brad Bradberry about their old boss, and they’ll tell you about the best boss they ever had.

“He always had faith in his employees,” says graphic designer Jeanne Ehmsen. “If you had a good idea, he’d let you run with it, and that’s pretty rare in this business. In a lot of ways, he was more like a father figure than a boss.”

“When I started this job, I was a punk kid with no management experience,” recalls production manager Tom Fildey. “Brad took a big chance on me, and he always supported me. He was more a mentor and a coach than a boss.”

“I remember once, right after I started, Brad left a message on my phone just to tell me I was doing a great job and that he appreciated it,” says Dan Johnson, sports editor for Evergreen Newspapers. “I’ve worked at other newspapers, and I’d never experienced that before. He was my boss, but I always considered him more of a friend.”

Webster Lee Bradberry III, 62, father figure, mentor and friend, died Sunday night at his Littleton home in the company and comfort of his family. During a year-long battle with cancer, Brad’s native optimism, enterprising nature and generous spirit never deserted him, and those qualities will forever remain foremost in the hearts and minds of his grateful colleagues.

Born on June 5, 1945, in Victoria, Texas, his family soon moved to Moultrie, Ga., and Brad retained a quiet reverence for his graceful Southern roots — and a graceful Southern manner — ever after. A star athlete and student leader in high school, the consummate newspaperman’s first brush with print didn’t occur until 1976 when, short on cash but rich in enterprise, he signed on with a small Illinois newspaper. The pay was a paltry $85 a week, but the creative energy of the newsroom was irresistible. For the next 30 years, Brad’s rising star took him to top management positions from Iowa to Southern California, culminating in 2002 with the publisher’s chair at Evergreen Newspapers. For many, his adaptability and pioneering spirit made Brad a leader in the field.

“Brad was an innovator,” Fildey says. “He had a thousand ideas a minute, and the ability to implement many of them.”

“He loved technology, but he wasn’t a collector of whiz-bang gadgets that clutter up people’s lives,” says news editor Chris Ferguson, who worked closely with Brad in developing Evergreen Newspapers’ original website. “Brad saw technology as changing the very nature of how humans communicate and share their lives.”

For others, the personal touch he brought to every aspect of the business was his greatest strength.

“I was living in Florida in 2004 and did the whole interview process over the phone,” Johnson remembers. “I’d been answering all these questions from the editor, and then Brad got on the line. The first question out of his mouth was, “You’re a Seminole, aren’t you? I’m a Georgia man.’ The rest of the time we just talked sports. I think that casual, friendly attitude rubbed off on everybody in the office.”

“He loved barbecue, and he was really good at it,” says Ehmsen, thinking of the warm afternoons Bradberry spent on the Evergreen Newspapers balcony with a pair of tongs in his hand. “He really loved the people he worked with, and he was just fun to be around.”

Bradberry retired in 2006 and began pondering a late-day career bringing his signature barbecue sauce to a wider audience. He wouldn’t get the chance. Last October, he was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer and quickly became locked in a frightening whirlwind of medical tests, chemotherapy and bleak diagnoses. Still, his characteristic energy and optimism came to the fore. Besides penning a regular column for Evergreen Newspapers, last summer Brad launched Thrive!, a magazine dedicated to those living under the dark cloud of cancer.

“I think my favorite time with Brad was working on Thrive!,” says Ehmsen, who lent her talents to the new venture. “We’d be sitting around a table talking about production stuff, and I’d just want to cry, but he still had the same great attitude and the same trust in everybody. He was still the same, strong Brad.”

There’s no question that Brad Bradberry loved news, loved newspapers, and loved the written word, but the true secret behind his journalistic success may have been his unflagging love of people. As captain, Brad made it a point to know every member of his staff as a person first, and as crew second.

“Brad was never too busy to discuss anything you wanted to discuss,” Johnson says, “and he supported you outside of work as much as he did at work.”

“He was simply the greatest boss you could ever ask for,” Fildey says. “I really enjoyed just hanging out with him.”

Contact staff writer Stephen Knapp at stephen@evergreenco.com or 720-261-1665.

Donations in Brad Bradberry’s memory are welcomed at:

Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers Foundation, 1161 S. Vivian St., Lakewood, CO 80228.