(If not for my wonderful friend, mentor and former colleague Jeffrey Bernstein, the founder of Cable Positive, I would not be posting anything about the inconceivable death of Dan Brenner tonight. When I learned earlier this evening that Dan was struck and killed by a car crossing a street in LA, I was numb and stunned into disbelief. My first instinct was to call Jeffrey, who worked closely with Dan in building Cable Positive years before I arrived to run the organization in 2000. Then the three of us worked closely for the next nine years, with many other fine human beings, raising $20 million and securing some $2 billion of pro-bono television airtime for HIV/AIDS education. I’ll have more to say about Dan when I stop crying and can think straight again, but thanks to Jeffrey’s finding a piece I wrote about Dan almost 10 years ago–saluting Dan’s championing an international matching grant program for HIV/AIDS organizations, I will reprint those comments here. On re-reading them, I got to the point where, Dan, a guest professor of mine in Stuart Shorentein’s Communications Law class at Hofstra Law School, told me that I learned well from his lecture since I chose NOT to go into Communications Law. It was Dan Brenner’s classic dry, self-deprecating wit, and when I re-read that line, I broke down and cried and could not continue reading. He was alive again to me, and will always be.)
Inspiring Us With the facts, and His Feelings
By Steve Villano
The first time I met Dan Brenner was over 25 years ago in law school.
I was a student, and he, a guest lecturer, in my Communications Law class, which could sometimes be a bit boring. Except, of course, when Dan Brenner taught. There was no time for boredom. His mind raced so fast, his humor was so relentlessly smart, that if you snoozed, you’d lose.
Fifteen years later, when I was hired to head Cable Positive, I saw Dan again at the National Cable Show in New Orleans. I went up to him at the Cable Positive Board of Directors meeting where I would be introduced, and whispered in his ear.
“I’m the only person in the entire Cable industry who’s ever been your student in law school,” I said, catching him off guard for a nano-second, watching his gentle eyes smile before his warp-speed wit went into action. “And, I must have done a good job,” he said, “because you’ve chosen not to practice Communications Law.”
In fact, Dan did a very good job, which is no surprise to all of us who know, admire and love him. Whether working as Counsel to former FCC Commissioner Mark Fowler, as General Counsel for NCTA over the past 16 years, or as a leading voice on Cable Positive’s Board for the past decade, Dan Brenner’s brilliance in his work was only eclipsed by his compelling compassion.
In venues outside of Cable Positive, it was easy to be distracted by Dan’s intelligence and how devastatingly funny he could be, with a few carefully chosen words and nuances. Cable Positive benefited by both of those gifts of his, but they took a back seat to his passion for the organization’s mission and his deep feeling for individuals—around the world—living with HIV. Yes, Dan was our General Counsel at Cable Positive and our strategic advisor on how best to present our programs to Cable industry CEOs. But he is far more than that.
Dan Brenner represents the heart-and-soul of Cable Positive and why the industry’s commitment to fighting AIDS is so unique. He has always understood intuitively—long before he worked meticulously with staff developing our “One-for-One Program” of domestic and international anti-retroviral drug assistance—how a rich and powerful industry can direct its vast resources to help people in need of assistance.
I always respected and admired how he challenged me constantly at Cable Positive, but I loved the fact that, through our work with him in fighting HIV/AIDS, he has been fearless in acting on his deep feelings for others, inspiring all of us along the way.