If you live in Washoe County and have not known anyone who died from complications from COVID-19, you’ve been lucky – until now.
On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Brent Boynton, 64, a long-time local TV news anchor and educator, died after a two-week battle with the virus. He left a legion of friends and admirers behind. But even those who never met him felt they knew him from the more than 30 years he spent in front of television cameras as a journalist, a government spokesman and a dedicated advocate for community causes.
He and I covered some of the same news stories over the last three decades and were colleagues as part-time instructors at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. At UNR, the news of his death hit like a sucker punch to the gut.
Many people who never met him felt the same way.
That’s because what people experienced on their living room screens was the same Brent that people knew outside the studio: a thoughtful, poised and generous man with an Edward R. Murrow voice and a quiet demeanor. I last spoke to him in September when I called him about a story I was writing. When I was done with my questions, we wound up chatting for another 40 minutes because we hadn’t seen each other in a long time.
We traded a couple of reporters’ war stories. We speculated about the future of local media and journalism education, bemoaned the lack of affordable housing in Reno, and, of course, we talked about COVID-19. Brent, who was then community outreach coordinator at the Reno Housing Authority, said he was glad he wasn’t covering stories in the pandemic. He said he was being careful.
Discussing the pandemic deniers
He was kinder than I when the topic of the politicization of masks and public health restrictions came up. I used the word “covidiots,” but Brent said he didn’t think people who ignore or protest the precautions are hopelessly stupid or intentionally selfish. They can’t take their anger out on an invisible virus, he said, so they aim at targets they can see.
Neither scientists nor governments are calling the shots, Brent knew. The virus is in charge.
Weeks later, careful or not, the monster found him. On social media, his death brought the virus — and the folly of those who treat it like a hoax — into greater focus.
Reactions were swift on social media
On Facebook, Rachel Gattuso of Reno related her experience with a woman who rolled her eyes after gently being told she was wearing her mask below her nose. Gattuso, articulating the mood of a community, described how tired everyone is of the pandemic and the way it has turned our lives upside down. She also reminded people that the precautions are about protecting ourselves and others.
People commenting on her post also told stories about running into opponents of masks. Gattuso evoked Brent Boyton’s memory.
We cannot gather together to mourn Brent. He died, as do most of the victims of this monster, in a city where hospitals are nearly overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, visitors are restricted and medical staffs are edging toward burnout. Our number of active virus cases has soared in the last few weeks and is expected to keep climbing. The day after Brent died, area funeral homes warned that they were reaching capacity.
We can make a difference
It’s a war; we’re under siege.
The only weapon we have to defend ourselves is our own behavior. There are no good options. Every measure we take has negative consequences, from minor or major inconvenience to lost livelihoods to financial ruin. Whining doesn’t help. Rebelling against reality puts other’s health, and their lives, in jeopardy.
Brent understood that. He cared about people he didn’t even know. He knew the virus is in charge, but that all of us have the power over our own actions or failure to take action.
He knew that if we work together, many more of us will still be healthy, still be breathing, when this worldwide crisis finally ends.