Remembering Dexter Brooks

Much of B.V. Brooks’ life seems to come from an earlier, more traditional New England era.

His real name was Babert Vincent.  His nickname was “Dexter.”  He attended Deerfield Academy and Dartmouth College.  Like his father — also named B.V. — Dexter was a faithful Yankee Republican.

B.V. Brooks

He followed his father into real estate development.  (In the 1950s, B.V. Sr. developed one of Westport’s 1st shopping strips — Westfair Center, opposite what is now Super Stop & Shop — and an adjacent housing development behind it.  Dexter Road is named for his son.)

In 1964, the Brooks family launched a new local paper, the Westport News.  According to Woody Klein’s history of Westport, it was formed as an opposition voice to the established Town Crier, seen as “the voice of the Republicans in power.”  The Brookses were aligned with Westport’s more conservative Taxpayers Party.

Ironically, the News made its biggest name — and ultimately drove the Town Crier out of business — with a very un-Republican crusade.  In 1967 United Illuminating announced plans to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island, less than a mile off Compo Beach.

Brooks’ paper — led by its activist editor, Jo Brosious — began a 2-year crusade against the utility company’s purchase.  In 1969, the town of Westport bought Cockenoe for $200,000.  Our water has been swimmable — and our homes safe — ever since.

The News tilted more Republican in later years, but Dexter Brooks never was a ham-fisted, you’ll-say-it-my-way-or-be-gone publisher.  I should know:  I spent 3 years as sports editor there, and my byline has appeared in the paper ever since I was a Staples junior.

In 1999 the Brooks family sold the Westport News — and its other Brooks Community Newspapers, in towns like Fairfield, Norwalk, Darien and Greenwich — to the Thomson chain.  Dexter stepped down as publisher that year.

He remained president of the Brooks, Torrey and Scott real estate company.  It was another family business:  Torrey and Scott are the names of his sons.

(Fun fact:  Brooks Corner — where his newspaper and real estate company once had offices — is named for the family.  The fact that Brooks Brothers now has a clothing store there is pure coincidence.)

Dexter Brooks’ impact on Westport — both as a real estate developer and a publisher — were enormous.

And no one could say he did not know his town.

Woody Klein’s book contains an anecdote about Dexter Brooks.  Once, a fellow member of the New England Press Association asked him how a small town like Westport could support an 84-page paper.  Where did so much news and so many ads come from? he asked.

“You don’t know Westport,” Brooks replied.

He explained that thanks to shoppers from far and wide, the town’s retail sales per capita were the highest in the state.

“The number and quality of restaurants is renowned far and wide,” he continued.  Home prices and income levels were quite high too.

But, Brooks continued, statistics did not tell the whole story.

At the heart of the difference here, in my opinion, is the dynamics, the widespread activism that engulfs Westport.  We kid that the shortest time span in the world is the time between when the light turns green and the guy behind you blows his horn.

And Westport boasts the world’s shortest time for organizing a group “pro” and a group “con” on any local issue.

Dexter Brooks died on Thursday, after suffering a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico.  He was 84.

His family’s legacy — and his own — will live for years.

9 responses to “Remembering Dexter Brooks

  1. Dexter was a loving and gentle soul. I would spend weekly visits at his home teaching yoga to Kay, his wife. He would enter the house ever so quietly so as not to disturb us. He’d enter the kitchen and grab some radishes. He would stand there every so quietly eating them as Kay was deep in shavasana (yoga rest.) Rest in peace dear Dexter. You will be missed.

  2. One little nit, Dan, The activist editor was a woman, Jo Brosious, without the “e”. She and B.V. made a great team.

  3. Great piece, Dan!

  4. I sure miss when he had a locally owned news source that wasn’t run by the head political man.

  5. Dexter was a true gentleman.

  6. Timothy Woodruff

    Great entry Dan. I well remember when the WN was a perpetual second choice-read to the TC. In the early days [for me -middle and late sixties] even it’s reduced size indicated something to a lad reading newspapers for the first time. Thick with advertising but low on content and also free?

    Never knew Mr.Brooks or recognized the true reasons behind the sea-change of TC to WN other than it became suddenly viable in my high school years. Frankly, after following our Little League scores, the next obvious byline we looked for in the transition years was yours, following Staples Athletics. You were a credit to the change and growth of “our paper.”

    Good Stuff!

    Tim Woodruff

  7. Dan, I’m a huge fan of yours but this tribute to Mr. Brooks was the best. I met Dexter and Kay through Near & Far. Subsequently, Mr. Brooks (as you know, we never called him “Dexter” at the office!) offered me the job of supplements editor. I had no experience in publishing but he was such an open-minded man that when I proposed to change every single thing about these sections and gave him my reasons why, he said, “Go ahead!” He supported me wholeheartedly as we launched Inside FC, and when the debut issue won 3rd place with the New England Press Association, he was the first to congratulate me.

    I’ve often said that one of the best days of my life was when Mr. Brooks hired me and one of the saddest was when he sold the papers. The espirit de corps was never the same. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, who will be very much missed.
    Louise Keim

  8. I love the means by which you have delivered the information so well. Thank you!