College benefactor Marion B. Brechner dies at 98

Marion B. Brechner, a dear friend of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, passed away on Jan. 6, 2011. Mrs. Brechner was a well-known Central Florida broadcasting executive and philanthropist who also was strongly committed to defending Florida’s freedom of information laws. She and her husband, the late Joseph L. Brechner, chose the College of Journalism and Communications to be the core of their mission to ensure access to government information.

Joseph Brechner was long active in press freedom causes, including support for the College’s fledgling press freedom center starting in 1981. He endowed the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and established the Joseph L. Brechner Eminent Scholar for Freedom of Information endowment with a gift of more than $1 million in 1985. The family also gave an additional $200,000 to build the current space on the third floor of Weimer Hall now occupied by the Brechner Center.

Mrs. Brechner established the Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project with a major gift to the Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information in 1999 because she believed its mission was vital to the continuance of our democratic society. Another gift in 1996 established the Joseph L. and Marion B. Brechner graduate assistantship.

Altogether, the Brechner family has given more than $3 million, including state matches, to the College of Journalism and Communications, the second-largest amount given by any individual person or family after the $6 million endowment of the late Alvin G. Flanagan. The Brechner family gave the funds during their lifetime, so they could witness the benefits that their gifts achieved in behalf of freedom of information and citizen access, regarding public meetings and records. Although neither Joe nor Marion were college educated – they both came from families of very poor means – they adopted the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications as their own, and took a great deal of pride in the centers they established, and the students these centers produced. In 2007, Marion was inducted into the Florida Freedom of Information Hall of Fame.

Mrs. Brechner was a native of Chicago, Illinois. She attended Chicago public schools and the University of Maryland. She served as a records supervisor at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, during World War II. It was during that time she met and married Joseph, who served as an air force officer during the war.

Following the war, the Brechners established radio station WGAY in Silver Spring, Maryland. They later acquired and managed radio stations in Erie, Pennsylvania; Charleston, West Virginia; and Orlando, Florida. In 1958, the Brechners began the development of a new television station, WLOF-TV, and later WFTV-TV, (Channel 9) in Orlando. The station went on the air in 1959, and Mrs. Brechner moved to Orlando the next year, becoming producer of a daily one-hour variety morning show at the station. She also served as director of community relations, public service programming and promotion, in addition to her duties as a managing partner.

After the sale of Channel 9 to Cox Communications in 1984, the Brechners established a new company, Brechner Management Company, which purchased WMDT-TV in Salisbury, Maryland and KTKA-TV in Topeka, Kansas. The business, with Mrs. Brechner as vice president, also purchased radio stations in Topeka and Wilmington, Ohio. Currently the company owns one TV station, having sold off the other broadcasting properties.

Upon the death of Mr. Brechner in 1990, Mrs. Brechner became president of Brechner Management Company and where she tirelessly worked carrying on her husband’s legacy.

Marion Brechner was not only a driving force, along with her husband, Joseph, in the establishment of one of the major television stations in Florida, she also was a leader in the arts and education in the city of Orlando, serving in executive positions in library and theater auxiliaries. She is a past president of Orlando Friends of the Library and an officer of the Orlando Shakespeare Festival Theater. Recently, a major gift from Mrs. Brechner was the key to the establishment of the Joseph L. Brechner Research Center at the Orange County Regional History Center.

A major gift from Mrs. Brechner also established the Joseph and Marion Brechner Fund for Jewish Cultural Reporting at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. She also provided funds to the Anti-Defamation League for the establishment of a Joseph L. Brechner Fellowship Program.

Marion Brechner will be remembered as a person who deeply cared about her family, friends, and community and as one who made the world a better place. She was gracious, friendly and witty. She had a quick intellect, and was a master Scrabble player.

Mrs. Brechner’s son, Berl, lives in New York with his wife Kathy and their three children, Elana, Josh and Kara. Like his mother and father, Berl is a broadcasting executive, editorialist and philanthropist.

Posted: January 11, 2011
Category: College News