In the 70s and 80s, Brent Hackney was a familiar figure in Raleigh political circles.
Yesterday, I got the bad news that he had died – at 57 – at his home in Moore County.
Brent came here in the mid-70s as a capital reporter for The Greensboro News & Record.
He was about the only reporter who ever flummoxed Hunt at a press conference. The Governor was famously sure-footed in those settings.
Once, Hunt was dancing around a question about why he wouldn’t fight against a bill in the legislature that he obviously didn’t like. Everyone knew why: the bill was sponsored by a powerful Senator, and Hunt didn’t want to make him mad. But Hunt wouldn’t admit it, and it was driving the reporters crazy.
Suddenly, Brent jumped in with a short, sharp question: “Governor, if you had veto power, would you veto the bill?”
Caught by surprise, Hunt said yes. And all hell broke loose. It took days to straighten out the mess, as I recall.
Brent taught me then that a short question was often better than a long-winded one.
So, in 1979, I hired him to work with me in Governor Hunt’s press office.
He was a great writer and a wicked wit. For more than five years, we worked together every day. He was especially good at getting me to lighten up when I got too wound up about some story or another.
Anyone who knew Brent knew he struggled with inner demons. Cigarettes and alcohol were his crutches.
After the Raleigh years, Brent moved back home. We talked every few months. He called me in 2004 to ask if I held it against him that he was working for a Republican candidate for Governor.
No, Brent, I didn’t. Even on the days when you frustrated me the most, I didn’t hold it against you.
I hope you’ve found peace now.