Piece of Mind: Red-faced over a Brown mistake

A couple of weeks ago we made an embarrassing error that was corrected in our Sept. 2 issue: We inadvertently referred to local attorney Robert Smith by the last name of "Brown" when reporting on the launch of Smith's new website, http://www.willstotrust.com.

I was horrified when I received an e-mail from Smith's daughter Olivia the day we printed the error. Olivia, now a college student who throughout her years attending La Cañada High was a Valley Sun intern, contained herself nicely when she pointed out our gaffe. I might have been apoplectic if my dad's name was mangled in a newspaper article, but she was characteristically polite. She thanked us for what she deemed a very nice story and then pointed out our mistake.

Oof. I wanted to crawl into a hole and take my partners in crime with me. No fewer than three pairs of eyes looked at the willstotrust piece and apparently thought Brown was a perfectly good name for the attorney, even though we used "Smith" correctly at the beginning of the article.

Mere hours after receiving Olivia's e-mail I was looking through a vintage edition of the Valley Sun to prepare for this week's "10-20-30" history feature when I was slightly heartened to see this headline: "Thanks, Anyway, Says Rudd, But Name is Brown."

On closer look, I learned we were in good company, as Time magazine had, 50 years ago, made our Smith/Brown error in reverse and our paper had taken a certain amount of glee in reporting it.

Rudd Brown, a Flintridge resident and a Democrat, was that year making her second bid for Congress. Politics ran in her family; her grandfather was William Jennings Bryan, the skilled orator and three-time presidential candidate who eventually rose to secretary of state, and her mother was Ruth Bryan Owen, who in 1929 became Florida's first female representative in Congress and in 1933 was named U.S. ambassador to Denmark.

The Sept. 5, 1960 Time cover story was about women in politics. It described our local woman as one of "two attractive candidates for office" that were being watched with interest: "Rudd Smith, 40, the slim brunette … who is campaigning for California's 21st district seat, a sprawling area that embraces half of Los Angeles and several bedroom valleys; and Maureen Brown Neuberger, 52, widow of Dick Neuberger and political virtuoso in her own right." (There was no mention of the fact that "Maureen" was also misspelled in the story; the Oregon candidate's first name was "Maurine.")

When asked to comment, Brown was as gracious as she could probably be under the circumstances: "I am flattered that Time has mentioned my campaign, and of course Mrs. Neuberger is an outstanding woman to be compared with. I am friendly toward the Smiths of this world, in fact, there must be several thousand of them in my district, and I would welcome their votes, but my name is not Smith, it's Brown, and I hope people will remember it on election day."

They may well have remembered that Brown was not a Smith, but she was not victorious at the polls. She was defeated by the incumbent Republican opponent Edgar W. Hiestand, who received 58.4% of the vote.

I'm confident our Robert Smith has a rosier prospect as he launches his website. Perhaps he'd like to add this line somewhere on his homepage, with a link to our story: "Thanks, Anyway, Says Robert, But the Name is Smith."

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. E-mail her at ccormaci@valleysun.net.

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