For all the thought posited upon the tragedy at Jonestown, it's a pity so little has been written about NBC Cameraman Bob Brown. After all, he alone provided irrefutable proof of the madness that first overtook members of the People's Temple in November of 1978. In doing so, he recorded his own death. It was late in the day when Brown and other members of the media covering Congressman Leo Ryan's visit to Guyana tried to fly out of that troubled land. But Jim Jones wouldn't allow it, sending his henchmen to gun down Ryan's group at the Port Kaituma airstrip. Bob Brown's TK-76 was rolling when the gunmen arrived. Witnesses say the 36 year old news vet immediately moved forward, lens up...
"Bob Brown stayed on his feet and kept filming what was happening, even as the attackers advanced on him with their guns. He was incredibly tenacious."Seconds later, the gunmen cut Bob Brown down, first wounding him from afar before moving in and executing him and others at point blank range. His footage, both of the splintering village itself and the last few seconds of his life, helped a shocked planet grasp the events that led to the mass suicide of 909 Temple members. But who WAS Bob Brown? A cursory search of the internet uncovers few details of the man before the massacre. The most I was able to discover comes from this dated NBC profile of Brown and slain on-air partner Don Harris. It describes Bob Brown as an former local TV reporter turned network photog; a man known for his sense of style and flair for human interest stories.
Bob Brown reportedly expressed concern over the Jonestown trip, but it didn't stop him from showing some Guyanese children the wonders found inside his camera's viewfinder. It's the photo of that encounter that has stuck with me long after I finished 'Raven', Tim Reiterman's exhaustive history of Jim Jones and his doomed followers. The picture shows a man in his prime, bending at the waist to share his everyday view with a child who most certainly has never seen such a thing. That alone makes me want to know more about Bob Brown, a dashing photog from another era who deserves a far better legacy than the flickering images leading up to his violent demise. I'm not sure anyone reading this can help me in this endeavor, but I'll gladly share whatever I learn. Now do me a favor and go hug a cameraman.
Above Photo: NBC Cameraman Bob Brown shows his TV rig to Guyanese children as NBC sound technician Steve Sung looks on. Brown was among the journalists killed by Jonestown members shortly before the mass suicide. (Photo by Ron Javers, San Francisco Chronicle)