Rennie Brabner passed away on April 8, 2020 from complications due to COVID-19. His wife, Mary Ann, and children Laura Brabner Ratledge and Reynolds Brabner tell about their dad’s love for Mobile, Mardi Gras and his “MoonPie Minute.”
Laura: Dad’s media career started at McGill-Toolen when it was a boys’ school. He was the editor of the school newspaper. He went to college at Alabama and worked for the campus radio station. He returned to Mobile and worked for a radio station here. He was working at Channel 10 when he broke the Pascagoula UFO story.
Reynolds: Growing up, I knew everyone knew dad, but I didn’t know why. Years later, they had the 40th anniversary of Channel 10. That was the first time I heard about the possible alien abduction and how big that story was.
Laura: For dad, journalism was about relationships, trust and respect. He was also at the right place at the right time. Another one of his big stories was covering the collision of the Sunset Limited Amtrak train.
Mary Ann: Rennie loved covering Mardi Gras. On Fat Tuesday, he left at five in the morning to ride around in his car and report what he was seeing for WKSJ. He talked about people grilling, drinking beer and scrambling eggs and made it interesting. He loved making the rounds to see what was going on.
Mardi Gras for Rennie was about families getting together and celebrating good times with friends. His parents were very active in Mardi Gras associations. So it started very early with him and he kept at it.
Laura: Mardi Gras brought together everything dad loved. He was passionate about downtown and wanted it to be revitalized. He was a part of every downtown organization and appreciated the contribution of Mardi Gras to the economy. In a 2019 “MoonPie Minute”, he said Mardi Gras brought in more than $20 million in taxes.
Dad was a history nerd and read all of the time. He started working on “MoonPie Minute” in October and would do 34 episodes a season on FMTalk 106.5. We are compiling his five years of “MoonPie Minutes” to protect them. One day we will donate the originals to the archives at the Carnival Museum.
Mary Ann: I told Rennie to put music in the “MoonPie Minute”, so a lot of the songs came from our CDS.
Laura: We worked with Sean Sullivan at FMTalk to keep the MoonPie minutes alive. We are grateful he is helping to make this happen. Reynolds and I recorded the intro with some of the sayings dad used to tell us: “This too shall pass” and “The only thing certain is change.”
Doing the “MoonPie Minute” has been positive and healing for us. Dad would have loved Reynolds and me being in the studio together working on them.
Reynolds: We have all of dad’s research and his notes for “MoonPie Minute.” There is enough information for us to keep it going in the way he would have done it.
(Mary Ann met Rennie when she was a pediatric nurse and Rennie came to her floor to visit his young nephew, Ross)
Mary Ann: I went in the room to check on Ross. The kid had been screaming bloody murder all day long. But the room was dark except for the light over the bed. Rennie had Ross on his shoulder. The kid was sound asleep and Rennie was reading a book. I thought, I like this guy, he can come back any time. We kept running into each other at different functions. A neighbor invited me to a party and Rennie was there, too. The rest is history. We were married for 41 years.
If he hadn’t gotten the Coronavirus, I don’t think April 8 would have been the last day of his life.It happened so fast. He got sick and was being treated for what they thought was a sinus infection. He wasn’t getting any better. I knew the antibiotic wasn’t working and there was something else going on.
Reynolds: We checked his oxygen level twice and it was 86 and 88.
Mary Ann: I took him to the ER on April 7, and that was the last time I saw him. In the hospital, he tested positive for COVID. He took one dose of medicine and said he was getting better and was ready to come home. This was in the early days of the Coronavirus when we didn’t know much about it. He was the target age and had a lot of comorbidities. He was in all of the high-risk categories to get it.
Reynolds: From the hospital he was asking for his phone charger. He sounded much better and I thought he was rallying.
Laura: We talked to him a couple of times in the hospital, but he couldn’t hear us very well over the ventilators. He said to tell the grandkids when he gets out we’ll have a party.
Mom: Rennie died on April 8. He wasn’t in the hospital for 36 hours. He turned over on his side and that was it, he was gone. The doctor said he had a major clot.
Reynolds: After dad passed away, mom tested positive for COVID. Laura and I had to quarantine because we had been around them. We lost our dad and then had to stay away from each other.
Laura: We started porch visits sitting far apart. We sat on the porch and went through boxes of papers and did the business side of dying.
Dad used to say funerals were for the living because we need the human interaction to talk about what we miss or to tell stories. But grieving during a pandemic is depressing and isolating. Our grieving process was put on hold. We could only have a graveside service with ten people. There was a second line with friends and neighbors in front of our house and that was so fitting for him. One day we will have a proper memorial service for him where all can come.
Mary Ann: God decided it was time to bring Rennie home. But by now he is probably ready to send Rennie back down because he is talking everyone to death. A lot of Rennie’s friends passed away before him and I bet they are figuring out ways to celebrate Mardi gras.
I lost my best friend and I have to redefine my life without Rennie. Who am I now as a person? We have to find ways to laugh through this to help us heal.
Laura: The first year of firsts is painful. It will be hard the first time we watch parades at our spot and dad won’t be there. After a death, dad would tell us to take time to be sad. But we still have to move forward. We have to keep going.
Reynolds: The Ash Wednesday “MoonPie Minute” from last year is our favorite. Especially knowing that this was his last one and that we were going to lose him soon after it.
(Reynolds played this MoonPie Minute from his phone)
“Feast, fun, dancing masked balls, frolicking and misrule now again give way to ashes on your forehead. I am Rennie Brabner with your final 2020 MoonPie minute.
We’ve done it. Just like Mobilians and our neighbors have done for nearly 320 years, we have survived Mardi Gras. We danced, partied, paraded and watched. We spent time with loved ones. We saluted King Felix the Third… We have done this in a tradition that goes back to the dawn of Roman history. To our French founders and to Michael Kraft, Joe Cain, Chief Slac, and the thousands who’ve celebrated the misrule of Mardi Gras. Now we put away the things of the flesh as Lent begins and when ashes are placed on our forehead. We hear from dust you came and to dust you shall return. Thank you for listening to these last 34 days. Until next Mard Gras, this has been Rennie Brabner.”