“My courage does not roar,
It whispers to my heart.
It makes me dig deep and
Find it in my soul to fight on.”
— Quote Brazil posted
John Brazil, a pillar in the Harbor, Brookings and firefighting communities, died Wednesday afternoon after what his wife, Patra, called a “fast and furious” battle with metastatic lung cancer.
He would have been 74 years old Aug. 31.
Brazil was born Aug. 31, 1944, in Sacramento, California, to Mary A. and Joe P. Brazil. He had three sisters: Victoria, Susan and Peggy.
And before he even graduated high school, he had his heart set on a girl named Patra Robinson.
He was 14, worked in the school library, and had seen Patra pass through on several occasions, she said. She met him a few months later, during Fire Prevention Week in October, when a friend introduced them.
“I saw him, walking toward us with his band uniform on, carrying a clarinet; she introduced us, we said a few words …,” Patra said. John did not then, nor ever, say goodbye to her. “I walked home and told my mother, ‘I’ve met the boy I’m going to marry.’ I just knew. It was just there.”
By 12:15 p.m., Oct. 29, she was wearing his ring.
Naturally, both John’s or Patra’s parents thought the young romance was fleeting puppy love. They not only didn’t believe it; they didn’t approve.
“Well, shucky-darn,” Patra said. “We had our own agenda. We never had any doubts, all the way through.
They married June 1, 1963; Patra was 18 years, 30 days old — the extra days as a buffer to ensure her victory with a bet with her brother.
Brazil graduated Norte Del Rio High School in Sacramento, trained at NORTEL in North Carolina, then with ATT in Chicago. He worked as a central office technician at Western Electric, as chief engineer at Pacific Bell and as a project engineering manager at GTE.
All the while, he amassed extensive fire science, suppression and safety vocational training.
After decades of work, though, the couple learned his company wanted to transfer him to Dallas, Texas, Patra put her foot down.
“That’s it; I’m done,” she recalled.
The couple’s daughter, Susan, lived in Harbor, and on a visit, John and Patra decided to relocate.
“As we turned the corner to her house, there was a house for sale that had been put on the market that day,” Patra said. “I said, ‘I want to live there;’ we made it happen.”
Her biggest concern, however, was what her husband would do with all the time on his hands.
“He no longer hunts, he doesn’t fish, he doesn’t know anybody — what on Earth do you do up here?” she said. “Well, stupid me. John’s such a people person; he found the fire department, and Chief Kelley latched onto him. The rest is history.”
He progressed through the ranks — lieutenant and deputy chief — before accepting the position of chief in 2007.
In his tenure, Brazil has been the squeaky wheel that got the county to consider road specifications to accommodate fire engines. He worked on signage and cataloguing Harbor’s fire hydrants. An unfinished project he was addressing was trying to eradicate jubata — Pampas grass — in the area, a noxious weed that erodes the ground.
The most recent accomplishment before he fell ill was in July, when Brazil, along with Capt. Thomas Sorrentino, became certified as “National Fire Protection Association Apparatus Equipped with an Aerial Device” — meaning both are qualified to operate a ladder truck.
Harbor Fire is the only department in the county with such an apparatus.
“He set many goals throughout his lifetime,” Patra said. “He treated everyone as an individual, with respect.”
Is she proud?
“You might say that,” she said with a smile. “He is — was — an amazing man.”
Brazil, the man
Brazil was diagnosed with cancer 57 days prior to his death, but never bemoaned his situation.
“He said, why should I be sad?’” Patra related. “‘We’ve done everything we’ve wanted to do in life, we have great children, great grandchildren; why should I be sad?’”
Patra said the family felt lucky he got to see three family members’ birthdays — daughters Laura and Lynn and his oldest grandson, Dakota — Aug. 9, 10 and 11, before he passed away.
He remained in command until the end, she said.
“Crews would come over with questions and he’d tell them where to find information,” she said. “‘It’s in my desk, in the bottom drawer, in a file about 2 inches in.’”
She had to turn the scanner off so John wouldn’t try to make fire calls.
And sometimes, he abruptly woke up and announced that the fire department had just been summoned; Patra would check with an app on her phone and learn he was right.
“But he couldn’t go,” she said. “It just broke his heart.”
Love and respect
The stories about John abound, and kudos range from humorous to somber.
Derwin Boggs, with the Coos Forest Protective Association, laughed when he was asked for a memory about John.
“I’ve known the guy for years and he could never get my name right,” he recalled. “He called me Darwin. He’d correct himself one in a while. So I’d call him Bill, or Steve. I think he did it on purpose after awhile.”
But he’ll remember John as an “all-out professional guy who was really good at what he did,” Boggs said. “He was fun to work around; he was a real asset to the departments around here. I’m going to miss the guy.”
So is Jim Watson, fire chief of the Brookings Fire Department.
“One of the things about John, he was passionate about Harbor Fire, passionate about the fire service, and he loved his firefighters,” Watson said. “And he didn’t live in Brookings-Harbor, he lived in Harbor — and he wasn’t shy about letting people know that.”
Watson said he met John when Brazil was backing up a fire truck at the Miss Sara fishing vessel fire.
“I thought he was going to back into me, and I honked and he waved and kept backing up,” he said.
Police Chief Kelby McCrae said he appreciated Brazil’s professionalism, integrity and dedication to both communities.
“He was always diligent, wherever he was, no matter what he was doing,” McCrae said. “If he was in the area, he would respond. That was always impressive. Listening to medical calls in Harbor: John would often get there before the medics would. That’s dedication.”
Many expressed sorrow.
“The passing of Chief Brazil is one more of a tough batch of pills our emergency services family has been forced to swallow in the past couple years,” said Gold Beach Fire Chief Tyson Krieger. “John emanated passion for his service; he was ‘fire’ from front to back. He dedicated his life to the services of his community going above and beyond any basic requirements. Filling those shoes will be a challenge.”
Harbor firefighter Bart Kast said Brazil gave everything his all.
“He was a good fit for our fire department,” Kast said. “Instead of traveling and seeing the country, this is the way he wanted to spend his retirement.”
Brazil’s facebook page features photos of him in parades, posing next to Harbor’s old fire engine — a 1924-25 Stutz that no one else can drive — or presenting a plaque to a firefighter in commemoration of another advancement. Scores of comments of condolences and memories are posted alongside.
Flags are at half-staff in Harbor, Brookings and the county building in Gold Beach.
Patra plans to stay on at the fire department. Her badge reads deputy chief, although she never was a firefighter.
“I think I need them as much as they need me,” she said of the crews there. “I have to see them through this, for the chief and I both. No way could I just walk away.”
She dabbed at a tear that threatened to fall.
“From the time we met until the time he died, he never said goodbye,” she said. “No matter what, we will always be together. He was an amazing man.”
“Rest in peace, John,” the fire department wrote on social media. “We got it from here.”
Memorial set Aug. 25
Services for Chief Brazil will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Capella at Azalea Park Reception to follow at Harbor Fire Hall at 98069 W. Benham Lane.