EDITORIAL – A personal remembrance of Brian Uzzell

If I may, let me exert my publisher’s privilege by offering a rare signed editorial in this space, paying what is certainly an inadequate tribute to Brian Uzzell, the longtime owner of this newspaper and, more importantly, a dear friend to me and my wife Vicki.

Perhaps others knew Brian longer and better than I, but our friendship spanned nearly three decades, all of which we shared as fellow travelers in publishing and the “news biz.” Long before we started haggling over business deals, we would from time to time get together for long lunches at Luca or Grand Old House, liberally punctuated with politically incorrect tales, jokes and gossip.

Although we bought the Compass from Brian in 2013 in a “package deal” that included about a half-dozen magazines, a commercial printing company, more than a dozen websites and other publishing properties, it was not widely known that we had been trying to purchase the Compass and the company (then known as Cayman Free Press, now Pinnacle Media Ltd.) for nearly 10 years before the deal actually closed.

We almost made it to the altar three times. The first courtship ended with Brian bolting, just weeks before the “I do’s.” He wasn’t comfortable with the valuation of the company (obviously, in his mind, too low), and he embarked on a long (creative?) process with his accountants to adjust the numbers upward. Fine, we told him, we’ll call you every six months to see how you’re coming along.

For a couple of years, we continued to check in and, after yet one more call, he suggested we have another lunch – at Luca. This time he said he was ready to sell. He brought along his financials, wildly overstating (we thought) the value of the company – and so we bolted.

- Advertisement -

The third time, in late 2012, was the proverbial charm. Brian had other offers from overseas but said he wanted the newspaper to remain under local control and, in particular, he wanted the future of the Compass to be guided by a real journalist – not merely a businessman trying to make a buck.

It should have been an easy deal – he wanted to sell, we wanted to buy, and we had, after a few more lunches, agreed on the price. It was not.

On our side, our lawyers (Ogier) and our accountants (Ernst & Young) were plowing through documents, financials and other detritus that makes up what is known as “due diligence.” Thousands upon thousands of pages were analyzed, indexed and cross-indexed, making up literally a library of thick binders. Hundreds of hours (the worst kind of hours – billable hours) went into the process.

Brian, too, had great attorneys (Colin Shaw and Co.), but while Brian loved his lawyers (Colin and his wife Anne), he hated paying legal fees, so he opted to save a little money by assigning much of the work to his in-house accountants and advisers. This vastly complicated and prolonged the negotiations.

The months plodded on. When our respective teams disagreed or squabbled, we could usually settle things up with another lunch at Luca (90 percent stories, lies and laughter – always the laughter – and perhaps 10 percent business). The negotiations were always gentlemanly, and our friendship grew.

On June 13, 2013, we signed the closing documents in the Grand Pavilion offices of Colin Shaw’s law firm. The mood was positive but painfully emotional. Brian had spent nearly 40 years of his life, nurturing the newspaper and now passing it on to Vicki and me. We vowed we would do our best to care for it with the same principle and integrity with which he had built it. Brian cried at that meeting. We all did.

As we departed the building, business concluded, something either natural or supernatural – certainly magical – occurred. A well-defined rainbow appeared in the late afternoon sky … We all took that as a good sign.

In the years since that day, Brian Uzzell, although no longer an owner of the company, has continued to be a part of Pinnacle.

Regularly, but always privately, we would call Brian for his counsel on various matters or messes we were facing at the moment. The only time he was off-duty (for advice or even during our negotiations) was during his 11 a.m. Pilates sessions. Until the end, he was trying to stay in shape – and doing a pretty good job of it.

His son Justin who, we joke, was practically born in the Compass Centre building, continues the Uzzell legacy as one of our most senior executives, serving as our Director of Operations.

Other than his joining us over the years at a Pinnacle table at one charity gala or another, we did not socialize much on island with Brian and his long-time partner Andrea Wong Sam (who is one of our top sales people at Pinnacle).

Nevertheless, we discovered we were “practically neighbors” in Florida, him with a home in Pembroke Pines and us 30 minutes away in Fort Lauderdale. For years now, we would spend the major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Easter), feasting and imbibing on vast quantities of Uzzell food and wine, festively prepared by Andrea for a dozen or so relatives and close friends.

Nearly all of these events would evolve (devolve?) into picture-taking opportunities with party hats and for-camera smiles. Brian seemed to delight in such silliness. Good for him.

In recent weeks, Brian’s health took a serious turn for the worse. One ailment piled upon another – I guess that is the way it often happens – and our fears went one way while our hopes went the other.

While ensconced in the Intensive Care Unit of the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, just minutes from his home in Pembroke Pines, his children, largely from London, gathered at his bedside while son Justin shuttled continuously between Florida and Cayman, attending to his father there and tending to Cayman necessities here. Andrea for weeks never left Brian’s side.

Just days ago, Justin again returned to Cayman for a quick turnaround trip to transport Brian’s four dogs to the Pembroke Pines home, where Brian had returned to spend his final days in comfortable surroundings among those who loved him most.

In his last days, we can report that Brian was in little discomfort which, we are certain, will be a comfort to all who knew and loved him. He passed on peacefully at 12:20 a.m. on Friday, with sons Justin and Simon, Andrea, and Justin’s wife Lydia at his bedside.

All of us at Pinnacle Media are in mourning.

- Advertisement -

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now