Rob Bryn, sheriff's spokesman, found dead at home

Sheriff's spokesman Rob Bryn at a news conference in March 2008.
Sheriff's spokesman Rob Bryn at a news conference in March 2008. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Rob Bryn, a widely respected public information officer for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office who also was a dedicated Republican activist, was found dead Thursday at his Paso Robles home. He was 61.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson, a close friend and longtime colleague of Bryn’s who worked with him at several law enforcement agencies, said he last spoke with Bryn about 9 p.m. Wednesday. He tried contacting Bryn several times Thursday morning but got no response. Deputies dispatched to Bryn’s home found him unresponsive about 10:55 a.m. Deputy coroners believe Bryn died of natural causes.

As spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, Bryn was the first person reporters turned to for information about emergencies or breaking news.

He was available around the clock and hustled to get information on deadline. Bryn also worked to explain to the staff of the Sheriff’s Office the demands local reporters worked under.

“Rob did a great job of providing information so we could in turn inform our readers,” said Tribune Executive Editor Sandra J. Duerr. “He would not duck questions or avoid our calls. He also had a wonderful human side; he cared about each person he dealt with.”

Parkinson and Bryn first met 26 years ago. Bryn lived with Parkinson after moving to San Luis Obispo County from the Los Altos Police Department to take a job at the Morro Bay Police Department in the 1980s. Parkinson was his training officer.

As their careers progressed, Bryn and Parkinson would again work together at the San Luis Obispo Police Department, and later at the Sheriff’s Office, where Bryn served beginning in 2007. All told, Bryn had more than 30 years of law enforcement experience.

Parkinson was tearful at a news conference Thursday, saying he was used to Bryn “delivering the news, but today he is the news.”

“He was great to be around,” Parkinson said. “He was always upbeat, made people laugh, and poked fun at himself. He would walk in and immediately change the mood of a room.”

Of his colleague’s work ethic and people skills, Parkinson said, “He was willing to answer the phone at any time when the media called. He always went above and beyond trying to foster relationships with (the media) and the Sheriff’s Office.”

Jim Gardiner, a former police chief of San Luis Obispo while Bryn was its public information and crime prevention officer, agreed.

“He was the quintessential public servant in trying to make things better,” Gardiner recalled. “He certainly was the go-to guy for community issues.”

Dr. Rene Bravo knew Bryn as a friend and through their shared Republican activism.

“He was just a class act,” Bravo said. “Rob was one of those guys who always tried to find the best in people; he was the real deal.”

In countywide Republican circles, Bryn was someone who worked mostly behind the scenes. That didn’t hold true in 2008, however, when he was a delegate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain at the Republican National Convention.

“I saw him on television,” Bravo said of his friend for 25 years.

“Part of his love for McCain was because Rob was in the Navy League” and McCain had been a Navy pilot.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also tapped Bryn to head up his San Luis Obispo County campaign.

“Candidates listened to him because he was straight with them and he knew the community so well,” Bravo explained.

Undersheriff Martin Basti was also a longtime friend of Bryn’s. The two met while Bryn was working in Morro Bay and Basti was driving an ambulance.

“He had a personality that could make a friend of anyone,” Basti said. “He did so much for the department’s public relations and news. He had a knack in how to orchestrate behind the scenes, and yet he was also the go-to guy; he made sure he got the story right. But, indicative of his sense of humor, his motto was, ‘All initial reports are wrong.’ ”

Jim Patterson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, characterized Bryn as “a good guy” who was often the first person Patterson went to when he sought information or clarification about a Sheriff’s Office matter.

Deborah Linden, who recently retired as San Luis Obispo police chief, said Bryn had visible passion for his career; his church, San Luis Obispo Church of the Nazarene; and service through his Rotary club.

Another community group Bryn was active with was the Alpha Academy, a mentoring program in San Luis Obispo that helps young men reorient their lives away from criminal activity or bad habits by teaching them life skills.

“Rob had a whole private side of his life that many people didn’t know about,” said Jack Gould, founder and president of Alpha. “It was his calling to mentor and encourage people.”

Besides his job and political affiliations, Parkinson said Bryn was dedicated to his two grown daughters and that they were his first priority in life.

Funeral arrangements are pending.