Why The Daily Illini will miss Brett Lerner

Brett Lerner in the WPGU studio during an edition of The Daily Illini’s “Illini Drive.” Photo courtesy of Urbana Public Television.

By Peter Bailey-Wells

For a lot of us, Brett Lerner was a big part of that routine.

Whether it was at work, in class or in the studio, Brett was the king of those 5- to 10-minute interactions. He always had a joke, a smile and a strong opinion. Talking with Brett rocked.

Our broadcast journalism class at the University is a tight one. A lot of us know each other, and a lot of us work together. Brett knew us at The Daily Illini, but he also knew people at Illini Productions, Big Ten Student U, WCIA and ESPN C-U.

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    He was really good at those 5- to 10-minute interactions because he did them a lot. And in those interactions, he made an impact on all of us. Just go look at his Facebook page or see the crowd at his funeral service Monday.

    He was hired at The Daily Illini during the second semester of our freshman year and we did an icebreaker during his first Sunday-night sports meeting: Who is your favorite athlete of all time?

    Not knowing Brett, I assumed that, being from Chicago, his answer would be a Bull, a Blackhawk or a Bear. But anyone who knew Brett knows he loved the Yankees. And he loved the Jets.

    He said his favorite athlete was Mariano Rivera. I said my favorite athlete was Dustin Pedroia. And from then until this Friday, Brett and I had a friendly rivalry about our favorite teams.

    I’ve never liked a New York fan more than I liked Brett. Which sounds petty, silly and naïve, but it’s the truth.

    Brett was a co-host of our sports talk show Illini Drive and the Illini Drive guys always trickle into the office on Mondays before they do their show. They sit by my desk in our newsroom and we shoot the breeze.

    That was my 5- to 10-minute interaction with Brett every week. And it was enjoyable. Last week, we talked about how the Jets and the Patriots were set to face off this week. I gloated about how the Pats always beat the Jets. He cautioned me against being arrogant about his team.

    If I could have anything in the world, I would have Brett back with us, tomorrow, before Illini Drive, so we could talk about how the game went. It was a regular part of my week, just as I hope it was a regular part of his.

    I didn’t know Brett half as well as some. He was a son, a fraternity brother and a friend in addition to being our co-worker. Those people, and more, knew him in the context of longer conversations than the ones I had with him.

    But his 5- to 10-minute interactions with us were all he needed to make an impact. With a few minutes to go before their 6 p.m. showtime, the Illini Drive guys would head to the studio and Brett would say, “Alright boys, let’s do a radio show.”

    It took him seven words to endear him to us. He was a quick friend, a lovable friend and a loyal friend.

    And he will be missed.

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