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.
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.