I’ve chosen a Person of the Year every December for longer than there’s been a KnoxTNToday, and now it’s time to do it again.
It’s usually not all that hard. I don’t crunch numbers, interview candidates or give out prizes. I just pay attention. And when it comes time to review the year’s local events, I mull them around in my mind, pick out the person who impressed me most and then I write a column about them. The downside is that sometimes they feel blindsided. I fear that some of them find the whole thing a little embarrassing.
This is a subjective process, and the winner, unaware of my annual internal debate, always seems quite surprised. I hope it’s a good surprise, but you never really know.
This year, things are different. I don’t have to worry about embarrassing my POY because, sadly, he won’t be here to read this.
Cameron Brooks died on the first day of September after a brief and brutal battle with cancer. He didn’t want to leave us. He was 45 years old and was in the middle of his first run for office. He’d worked on many political campaigns, but this time he was knocking on doors and talking to voters for himself. His blue and white yard signs bore the charmingly awkward and heartfelt slogan, “We are people for Cameron Brooks.”
He’d been working out with a trainer and was looking good as he split his time between his job as a Realtor and his campaign. Then came the news that he’d been diagnosed with cancer.
It was shocking, but Cameron believed he could beat it. His many friends believed that, too, and held on to that belief for as long as they could.
Although he’d supported many candidates and been involved in many campaigns, Cameron had never pulled a petition for himself before. He was a former Knox County Democratic Party president and a member of the Knox County Election Commission. I’d known of him for quite some time before I met him, probably going back to the time when he was a UT student and founded the Alliance for Hope, which launched the Living Wage Campaign and the United Campus Workers. After he graduated, he moved into a fulltime job and kept working to raise campus workers’ salaries and working conditions. He made lifelong friends in the process, some of whom were active in his city council campaign.
Although he was naturally shy, Cameron was always reaching out, and had many friends on all sides of the political divide. This was one of Cameron’s greatest talents. He truly loved making new friends and caring for old ones. He had a big, kind heart.
He didn’t limit that caring to humans. Cameron Brooks loved animals and couldn’t bear to see them mistreated. He and his husband, Wes Knott, opened their home to seven rescue dogs over the years, and Cameron was also a proud member of the Young-Williams Animal Center board of directors. He raised thousands of dollars for animal welfare groups with events like his free Pet Portrait Day and his pie giveaways.
In addition to his innate kindness and generosity, Cameron Brooks was honest and loyal, sometimes to a fault. It’s not that he never made mistakes, but when he did, he owned up to them, resolved to do better and worked to improve himself. He was not one of those men who have trouble apologizing.
This is all getting pretty syrupy, so I’m going to stop. But I could go on for pages about the good deeds of Cameron Brooks. I’ve gotten too old to wonder why bad things happen to good people, but I sure wish they didn’t, and I’ll probably shed a tear for what might have been when the new city council is sworn in.
Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.