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When a journalist leaves the trenches and goes to work in public relations, we who remain on the beat often joke that the person has “gone over to the dark side.”
Brian Garnett, the Department of Correction spokesman who died over the weekend, remained on the sunny side when he left the news business to portray the agency that runs the state prisons in its best light.
Garnett, 57, loved his job, and it showed. Even as he battled cancer, he continued to work, sometimes taking questions at home by email.
If a reporter needed something yesterday, Garnett did his best to get it. When she asked the tough question, he responded with candor. Because he was so helpful, a journalist wanted to oblige him when he called to pitch a story that made the department look good.
Garnett was the DOC’s director of external affairs for about a dozen years, according to news reports. Before that, he worked as a reporter for more than a quarter of a century, much of that time spent covering crime and state government for Hartford’s CBS affiliate, WFSB-TV.
His deep understanding of what we needed made him a pleasure to work with. In December 2010, after six New London teens were charged with killing Matthew Chew in downtown New London, I called to ask if we could visit the Manson Youth Institution, where most of the teens were incarcerated.
“I want to show the community what life is like for these boys,” I told him.
“I know what you mean,” he responded. And he did.
A day or two later, he met me and Day photographer Tim Martin at the Cheshire prison. Sometimes when a public relations person insists on being present for every interview, it feels as if he or she is babysitting the interviewee. Not so with Garnett. He introduced us to key people at the prison, then sat back and listened. As we left, he asked if we needed anything else.
Hearing of his death over the weekend, it struck me that what we need is more people like him.