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Fred Brown awarded Wells Memorial Key, highest SPJ award

By Billy O'Keefe

By Marissa Newhall
American University
Journalist Fred Brown, known for his humility, dapper fashion sense and peerless ethical standards, was named the 2006 Wells Memorial Key honoree Saturday night at SPJ’s Presidential Installation banquet.

Fred Brown is congratulated Saturday night after winning the Wells Memorial Key Award. (Photo by Roger Meissen, Truman State)

Fred Brown is congratulated Saturday night after winning the Wells Memorial Key Award. (Photo by Roger Meissen, Truman State)

The Wells Key award, SPJ’s most prestigious honor, is given annually to a member judged to have served the Society in the most outstanding fashion during the preceding year or over a period of years. It was created in 1913 and named after Chester Wells, Sigma Delta Chi’s dynamic second national president.
Known as “Mr. Ethics” amongst his peers, Brown currently serves as co-chairman of the SPJ Ethics Committee. He played a crucial role in 1996 when the organization shaped its Code of Ethics, the industry standard. He also writes a monthly ethics column for Quill magazine and has been a tireless crusader for high ethical standards in journalism.
Brown, a columnist and retired Capitol bureau chief for The Denver Post, served as national president of SPJ in 1997-’98. He has been the Region 9 director and president of the Colorado Pro chapter. And he currently sits on the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board.
“When we have a question of competing values, and what we should do, we ask Fred,” said Mead Loop, SPJ’s vice president of campus chapter affairs. “He’s not interested in self-promotion, but he is interested in promoting our Code of Ethics. É He’s the Society’s best representative of our best practices in ethics.”
SPJ President Christine Tatum, Brown’s former colleague at The Denver Post, called him “an absolute stalwart of this organization.”
“There are few people who carry themselves with as much grace, humility, gentility and thoughtfulness,” Tatum said. “He’s incredibly wise. And Fred is the type of person, when he finally speaks, everybody stops and really listens.”
“I am absolutely overwhelmed,” Brown said with a grin after receiving his award and reciting an impromptu haiku — his trademark hobby — on stage.
Brown is the 96th Wells Memorial Key honoree (there were multiple winners in past years). In 1984, four people were chosen for the award’s 75th anniversary, Carlson said.
Brown is “the conscience of SPJ,” said Immediate Past President David Carlson, a weight Brown has carried on his shoulders for a long time. “He has given so much to SPJ over the years it’s almost unbelievable. And I don’t know a nicer guy than Fred.”
The winner is chosen by SPJ’s president, president-elect, secretary-treasurer and vice president of campus chapter affairs. The vote must be unanimous and the winner’s name is kept secret from everyone, including the honoree, until the convention’s end.
When asked if he had any idea that he’d be receiving the award, Brown said: “Well, people kept taking pictures of me, so I had an inkling.”