It seems fitting that I learn of Phyllis Brandon’s death on a Sunday, since she shaped Sundays for so many people for decades.
Phyllis D. Brandon played a unique role in shaping and supporting Little Rock’s cultural life. As the first and longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s High Profile section, she promoted cultural institutions, supporters and practitioners.
Since it started in 1986, being featured in High Profile has been akin to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It exposes cultural institutions and events to new and wider audiences. There is no way to put a monetary measure on the support Brandon gave to Little Rock’s cultural life during her time leading High Profile from 1986 to 2009. From 2009 to 2011, she served as editor of Arkansas Life magazine, again supporting and promoting cultural life.
With her unassuming manner, she coaxed stories out of interview subjects and captured photos which highlighted events. A journalist since her junior high school days in Little Rock, Brandon was also a witness to history. As a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, Brandon returned to her alma mater, Little Rock Central High, to cover the events in early September 1957 for the Arkansas Democrat. Eleven years later, she was in Chicago for the contentious and violent 1968 Democratic National Convention as a delegate.
From 1957 until 1986, she alternated between careers in journalism and the business world, as well as being a stay-at-home mother. Upon becoming founding editor of High Profile, she came into her own combining her nose for news and her life-long connections within the Little Rock community. As a writer and photographer, she created art in her own right. A look through High Profile provides a rich historical snapshot of the changes in Little Rock and Arkansas in the latter part of the 20th Century and start of the 21st Century.
It is impossible to overestimate the positive impact that Phyllis Brandon had on Little Rock’s cultural and philanthropic scene. But she would never take credit for anything. She always gave it to the leadership at the newspaper or to the people and organizations she covered.
Her modesty was genuine. One year I was seated as her dinner companion at the Arkansas Arts Center’s Tabriz. During dinner I asked her if she had ever considered writing a book. I mean, she had been a first-hand witness to Central High integration AND the 1968 Democratic Convention. Her response to me was a sheepish smile and then in a soft voice, “No. Who would want to read about my experiences?” I tried to assure her that many people would. But she was uncomfortable talking about herself, so I allowed her to change the subject.
Once I DID have the chance to honor her for her commitment to Little Rock’s arts scene. But to do so, I knew it had to be a surprise. It was at an event she was planning on covering. So I approached Walter Hussman about recognizing her. He assured me that he’d make sure she was there, and then proceeded to fill a table at the event with Democrat-Gazette leadership as an added tribute to her.
Then-Mayor Jim Dailey (who shared a July 31 birthdate with Phyllis) presented the award to her. She was shocked and probably would have preferred not to be in the spotlight. But she was gracious in accepting the honor. Thankfully, she did not have to make a speech. It is one of my favorite memories of Phyllis Brandon.