April 19, 2019

Ian Brodie: One of a Rare Breed


Father, Teacher, Friend

Ian Brodie, the Messenger’s publisher for the past 30 years, died on May 8. I am still waiting for the telephone to ring with his opinion of the latest issue of the Messenger. It was one of those “issues from hell,” but I know he would be proud.


Ian Brodie: One of a Rare Breed

Ian Brodie in a recent photo was a distinguished journalist and had a life-long love of newspapers. He was the publisher of the Messenger for the past 30 years.

Ian came into the Messenger’s life when we were almost going into our terrible twos. I think we were his first child and what a father he has been. Yes, he invested $10,000 to get us on our feet and he never looked back. A true newspaper junkie! We didn’t make it easy; as a matter of fact we were terrible. Many owners were sure we would be sold out and taken over by some major newspaper chain. Papa taught us the ropes, gave us the opportunity to grow with a loving hand. Rarely criticized, only suggested, and once the suggestions were made, we got it and moved on. He brought us proofreader extraordinaire, Bridget, also known as the “brain.” What a blessing that was.

He hired Lee Kelly to be his personal assistant. One of her many tasks while working with Ian was to write “Dateline” for the paper and deliver the flats to the printer. Lee is a very talented writer and a constant contributor to our little rag. Again, another great blessing.

He was our father, our teacher, one of the kindest people I have ever known. I am the only hands-on staff member left after 32 years of publishing and he always had my back. It didn’t matter where he was in the world, he was just a phone call or e-mail away, always interested in what we were doing, a great support to our editors, some of whom he had never met face to face.

His mantra was elegance, clean pages, no lines and getting it right. After reading his obits in two British newspapers which referred to “the Topanga Messenger, which had just been started by hippies in the hills above Malibu and Santa Monica,” I can hear him say, “They got it all wrong. They didn’t use Topanga Canyon. We are not Malibu. You must always, always be accurate.” Followed by his incredible infectious laugh. “Hippies” was another word he didn’t like. “We have to lose that image,” he would say. “You have grown up now; you must be responsible and let them know you’re professionals.” Again, Dad giving us another lesson.

“Never be late. You are a newspaper; people depend on you; there are no excuses, no vacations and no time off during production. Rest up on the off week and take care of personal business.” An example of this was the 1980 flood. The paper was going to bed and our office was flooded out. Despite the inhospitable circumstances, Ian saw that we took time to change 90 percent of the paper, adding news of the flood and great flood photos. He had us move our darkroom into his bathroom at home on Croydon so the paper could be finished. (I’m sure Bridget loved that!) Right again. We were the only paper to come out in Topanga—the L.A. Times couldn’t get into our little flood zone because the roads washed out.

When the internet was born he wanted a webpage. “We must keep up with the world.” Second child topangamessenger.com was born and he spent countless hours making sure we got it right. He checked our page constantly and always made sure we were right up there with our competition. Hours and hours of his research went into this project.

One of the greatest gifts was his visit to Topanga on his own after his first stroke. Not an easy trip for him to make, I’m sure, but he was bound and determined. Bridget was probably shaking in her boots. I know I was. He made it with grace and dignity. His wish was to be in the Messenger office. And that he did. We did revert back to the cheese-and-wine party in his honor. New staff members met him face-to-face for the first time and were overwhelmed by his spirit and love for our little paper.

So, my friend, thank you for all that you have given to us personally, as well as our paper, for all the faith you have had in us, and for always being there for me. I will miss hearing, “Cheers—lovely, job well done!” I will always remember your wonderful laugh and all of the good times spent in the Messenger office. Five p.m. used to be “Miller time” and I would give anything to go back, listen to your advice and celebrate the day. You would be reading the upcoming copy or we would go over the printed version after it came back from the printer. You would question, let us answer and again suggest — never criticize. A very thoughtful teacher.

“The Topanga Messenger, your staff-owned independent newspaper since 1976, dedicated to defending the public interest in our Topanga community”—those are your words and that is your legacy, Ian Brodie, and we will continue to do our best and make you proud. We are the little powerful newspaper that can! —Mary Colvig Rhodes


I feel like somebody just tore into the place in my heart that holds those special, meaningful memories. The Messenger has lost a champion and I have lost a dear old friend.

I don’t remember exactly when it was that Ian became involved with the Messenger, but I know that the Messenger was still somewhat in its infancy. Colin Penno was editor, and I had started to write a silly little column called “Kelly’s Korner.” Ian was appreciative of my tacky little tales of Topanga riff-raff and encouraged me to keep at it. Unfortunately, the American Legion Post closed their bar shortly thereafter and consequently my sources, so to speak, “dried up.”

It was about that time that Ian’s “secretary” gave notice, and he was anxious to find a replacement. The hours were a good fit for me so I agreed that “we will both try it and see how it works.” That was about 1980 and I stayed with Ian as his “secretary” until late 1985.


Ian Brodie: One of a Rare Breed

Portrait of distinguished journalist and Messenger publisher Ian Brodie by his son Russell Brodie.

As Ian’s girl Friday I did just about anything: clipping and filing the latest selected items from various newspapers, scooting to Santa Monica in search of baby food for his little son Russell, researching noted figures at area libraries, including the Motion Picture Academy, picking up daughter Louise at Montessori pre-school, taking Ian’s car to the mechanic’s or the car wash, and weeding and watering the garden. I never knew what I would be doing from day to day, and frequently I would arrive to find a note listing my duties, always signed: “Cheers, Ian.”

Working for Ian certainly had its ups, but it was also fraught with misgivings. Perhaps my two worst experiences involved the arrival of this monster machine in his office. He called it a computer, showed me that it had slots and they had names, and that some odd-looking record was called a floppy disc and there was also a hard disc, all of which totally escaped me. It was a nasty, noisy contraption, the printer clacking loudly as if each stroke of the key were whacking me even more senseless. Yes, it really was a typewriter kind of affair. The probability of error was huge! At any rate, much to my relief, Ian was the first to perform a grand faux pas by spilling a glass of milk on the keys. I got the dubious honor of hauling the whole works down to Diamond Bar for repair. Once there I was asked what code they should use to access it. Code? Ian had once shown me some numbers to input in order to start it, and for once in my life, after a very bad first moment, I was able to remember it. Whew!

My second-worst experience came when Ian was on assignment and called at the very end of the day to dictate a story to me which, he said, must be sent immediately to South Africa via the computer. In abject horror I tackled the beast with which I had no previous experience to speak of, and noted that there were at least four spaces between each line as they came up on the screen. There I was, alone and with no idea how to correct the problem. I hopefully consulted with Ian’s wife Bridget only to learn that she also knew nothi