“He just was a gentle soul,” Doyle said. “Saying he was beloved by everybody was an understatement. . . . He just was sagely and so even-keeled that he could offer advice that many people said changed their lives.”
Brooks often got a flu when the seasons changed, and when he developed a cough in early October he insisted it was not serious.
But “he just laid there, and that’s not like him,” recalled his wife, Gloria Brooks. When he wasn’t working, her husband was “a fixer-upper” — always improving their Brookland house in some way. She persuaded him to see a doctor, and he was hospitalized immediately. She never saw him alive again; he died Oct. 24.
Brooks grew up in a sharecropping family in Natchez, Miss. He met his future wife in the two-room schoolhouse where his mother taught. In 1963, he and his younger brother were arrested after protesting for the integration of a local rubber plant; a local civil rights leader in that campaign, Wharlest Jackson Sr., was later killed in a still-unsolved car bombing.
“That’s the thing that struck me about Don, someone who’s lived and experienced some of the darkest moments in American history and to still be so optimistic about everything and easygoing — it says a lot about his character,” said Ana Logania, a colleague of seven years.
It was also in Mississippi that he began a lifelong love affair with the game of golf, despite segregation barring him from most courses. He and his brother worked as caddies and made their own makeshift holes in the land along with river. Sunday was the one day he never worked — not for church but for golf.
He eventually moved with a cousin to D.C. and began working at Carnegie. Over the next 52 years, he became an institutional memory and guide to the building. He developed a close relationship with Maxine Singer, president of Carnegie from 1988 to 2002, who said in a statement he was “vital” in efforts to expand the institution’s local outreach.
While she was his favorite of the seven presidents he worked for, when asked Don Brooks insisted they were all great.
“He was the worst person to gossip with,” Logania joked. “There was not a mean bone in his body.”
On late nights he would walk her to the garage and make sure she got in her car before leaving himself. For his daughter, who works nights, he would always have coffee ready.
“Every girl in our family was a college graduate. He was very proud of that,” his brother Leroy Brooks recalled. He drove his wife and family anywhere they wanted to go — Atlantic City, the Poconos.
His home was an “open door,” his brother said, the place extended family and neighbors gathered for fireworks and board games. He would crack up his children and grandchildren with his absurd Scattergories answers and his attempts to learn the latest dances.
“He’s gone, but the spirit still lingers,” said his daughter, Cherylee Brooks. “We all try to cling together and stay as a family, because that’s what he would have wanted us to do.”