Remembering Ken Brooks

Keith Howard | Monday, April 20, 2015


Sunday morning, Ken Brooks, a former board member and Liberty House supporter from the beginning, passed away. Ken, who was 90 but never appeared to be a day over 75, was a weekly visitor to Liberty House, always with a donation of paper goods, food, and newspaper clippings of interest. More than anything, he brought with him joy, hope, and stories. Good stories.

Ken fought in World War II, stationed, I believe in Alaska, and had a bouquet of stories about the men he served with. Guys who drank too much and did stupid stuff because of it. Guys who were terrified of the end of the war and having to go back to their hardscrabble lives. Even a story about Burl Ives, the singer and narrative voice of the Rankin-Bass stop-action “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a tale in which Ives behaved very against type with an Army nurse. Interestingly, none of Ken’s stories starred Ken Brooks as a cool guy; instead, they were the wry observations of an old man looking back on young men’s follies. Even his college anecdotes about his days at Kenyon in Ohio were about his classmate and friend Paul Newman, not about Ken himself.

Ken brought stories and excitement and joy—joy about his family, about overcoming his medical problems and joy about Liberty House and the men and women whose lives are being transformed here. He regularly hired Liberty House residents and former residents to do work around his house, worried about the takeover of services for homeless veterans by “corporate charity,” and shared in each victory by a resident.

Ken Brooks is gone, but he lives on in each man or woman who passes through Liberty House in a search for a return to the mainstream. I probably should draw a quotation from Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead or James Jones’ From Here to Eternity. Instead, though, I’m going back a century before, to Middlemarch, where, swap the gender and and I think you’ve got Ken Brooks:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life.”

-Keith Howard

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