my turn


Farewell To Wes Brown

Over the past couple of months, I have been trying to reach an automotive market consultant with whom I've spoken almost weekly since I began covering the auto beat around 2000. This was frustrating at first because he wasn't answering the phone at his firm, and he had almost always answered his phone and if not, always got back to me with alacrity.

I called him all the time because he was not only among the most perspicuous interpreters of the business of marketing autos, but because, with his oddly British accent (I think he came from Detroit; I know his dad worked for Ford), it was genuinely a pleasure to speak with him.

Anyway, no callbacks, no answers. Nothing. And after nothing, a message on his phone, when I called: "This is a non-working number." I was sure that he had gone to work for Coda, the startup electric car company in Silicon Valley for whom his firm, Iceology, has been doing market research. But no. Not there.

Finally, I left a message on Chris Cedergren's phone. Chris runs Iceology. If anyone would know where Wes went, he would. I can't remember when I left that message. Last week? Early this week?

Yesterday, I was feeling a bit odd from morning till night, just a bit out of sorts. Late last night I got on the computer to watch that BP robot video of the leak to see how the "top kill" was going, then checked my email out of habit. A note from Cedergren: "I have sad news." He wrote that Wes Brown had passed away. Not a month, maybe two, after my finally having met him in person, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, per Cedergren. That was December; he was gone in February.

My meeting with Wes Brown last fall was during one of my rare trips to L.A., and the fact is, I almost wasn't able to stop by Iceology at all because my schedule was packed tight. I was, however, able to shoehorn Wes in between a breakfast meeting somewhere and a meeting with Hyundai folks that afternoon, just before my flight back East.

We took a walk, had coffee, talked about Coda. Seeing him in person was astonishing. We all get a mental snapshot of someone we speak to all the time but never meet. Same for me. Although I knew he was probably in his late 30s, my image of Wes was that of a teenager because of the way his ideas tumbled out, and his enthusiasm, and his offbeat take on things.

And when I met him finally, he really did look pretty much the way I had imagined. Kind of a big kid -- I think he was wearing a soccer jersey -- and he grabbed me off the elevator, hauled me into his office, and then out to coffee at a place across the street. "I gotta get back to work," he said. I split, promising that we would hook up when he came east. I'd show him Brooklyn.

I mean to call Cedergren and find out if there's anything he would have liked people to do in lieu of the usual honoraria. To those of you who knew Wes Brown, I'll get back to you on that.

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