Carl Mundth described Ed Brooks as “pillar in the community, but a gentle giant personality wise.”
The town of Reedsburg Supervisor recalled his first encounter with Brooks, at an annual meeting in the late 1990s for the School District of Reedsburg where Brooks was selected as a temporary chairman. The way Brooks conducted the meeting—making everyone feel comfortable and giving everyone time to speak-held a lasting impression on him.
“The way he ran that temporary chair position and kept everyone in line and moving along and feeling good,” Mundth said.
Mundth said he was still feeling the pain and grief of losing someone he called a friend, neighbor and comrade the morning of April 25, the day after the announcement the Reedsburg native, former state assembly representative and town board chairman passed away April 23 after battling leukemia. Brooks was 76 years old.
The loss of Brooks goes beyond the lifelong resident’s hometown of Reedsburg and the 50th District. It was felt around the state as several local and state officials released statements regarding the Brooks passing.
Reedsburg Mayor David Estes said in a statement, “Brooks was a proud but humble man, and always very understated about the important role he played in the development of our community and surrounding area.”
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order for all flags throughout the state to be flown at half-staff, honoring Brooks for his service to the state. Evers said on his Twitter page “Ed dedicated his life and career to fighting for the people of Wisconsin and leaves behind an honorable legacy of relentless advocacy and service.”
Brooks began his political career with the town of Reedsburg. He served as a town board supervisor in 1979 and was elected its chairman in 1983. He served as town chairman for 36 years.
Mundth, who has served on the board for 18 years, said him and Brooks “didn’t agree on everything.” He said Brooks always took time to explain a disagreement, decision or situation in an understanding way, leaving both sides satisfied after the meeting. Mundth and Brooks lived down the road from each other on Grote Hill Road in Reedsburg.
Rebecca Meyer also lived on Grote Hill Road next to Brooks and serves as the town of Reedsburg’s clerk. She said Brooks was “economically conscious” on the town board, especially when it came to road projects and applying for grants fixing them. Mundth agreed adding roads like South Golf Course Road and Reedsburg Road are in better shape because of the work Brooks contributed too during his time on the board.
Meyer said Brooks always had the best interest in the community and his constituents. A characteristic she saw in Brooks demeanor.
“It wasn’t always about his road being plowed first, it wasn’t always about his road being fixed first, it was about the whole township…” Meyer said. “It wasn’t about just him, it was about how it affected everybody.”
Brooks represented Wisconsin Assembly District 50 for 10 years until he decided not to run for re-election in 2018. He served as chairman of the Urban and Local Affairs Committee, later renamed the Local Government Committee. He was a founding member of the Rural Wisconsin Initiative, which focuses on improving rural life and “bridging the gap with our urban neighbors in education, healthcare, technology and the workforce.” He also served on the Agriculture, Corrections, Jobs and the Economy, Mining and Rural Development, Transportation and Workforce Development committees.
Brooks announced in early 2018 he would not seek reelection for another term due to health issues while battling leukemia. The position is currently held by Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc. Kurtz said Brooks was a mentor and father figure to him.
“He always had a kind word had a great wisdom and had been there for me and so many others,” Kurtz said “Ed has touched so many lives including mine. I hope I can live up to his high standards.”
The 50th District covers all of Juneau County, parts of Sauk and Richland counties, and small portions of Vernon and Monroe counties. Mauston Mayor Brian McGuire said Brooks was always someone to count on to help out rural areas on issues, like transportation, if it required legislative efforts.
“It didn’t matter where you sat on the issues he was willing to help,” McGuire said.
While Brooks decided not to seek reelection to the state assembly, he was still committed to serving on the town of Reedsburg board. He was reelected to another two year term as chairman after running unopposed in the April 2 election. Mundth and Meyer said when Brooks was still committed to serving on the town board, even when he was going through cancer treatments.
“I think it was an important part of his life, the dedication and commitment,” Mundth said. “It was a passion and he was just so dedicated and he enjoyed what he did.”
Mundth said Brooks supported many youth organizations and fundraisers throughout the district, like the Reedsburg Fire Department’s annual spaghetti supper.
“Any kind of dinners where he could contribute back to the community he was very willing to do that,” Mundth said.
Brooks’ Former Capitol Staff Member and resident of Lyndon Station Kathryn Heitman said they grew close through the time they spent together when he conducted official visits around the district.
“I was incredibly blessed to have him in my life and a part of my life,” Heitman, who now works as a legislative assistant for Kurtz, said.
Heitman said Brooks was one of the first people to visit her in the hospital last Thanksgiving to meet her then newborn son after he was born. She said if someone was sick or in need of special attention within the district, Brooks would pay that person a visit. The gesture wasn’t out of the ordinary for him.
“I thought it was special he did that,” she said. “He made us feel special and he genuinely cared and I think folks saw that.”
She described how Brooks purchased baked items from local organizations and clubs within the district, filling his Madison office with the treats to share with the legislative staff and colleagues of the assembly, state senate and the press corps. She said Brooks would purchase individual boxes of candy from Powers Candies in Lyndon Station at Christmas time, hand delivering them to people in the capitol and the district. The gesture earned him the nickname “Sweet Tooth Eddie,” she said.
Heitman said Brooks was realistic person who would stay calm under pressure.
“A lot of times people can get very emotional and very passionate,” she said. “He always stayed cool, calm and collected. He knew what he wanted to get done, he knew how he wanted to do it and he wouldn’t get too excited about it.”
Heitman said Brooks worked with a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle and from urban areas during his time in the state assembly. She said he was close with Rep. Jill Billing, D-La Crosse, and “worked very closely” with Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, one of the representatives on the local government committee.
Heitman said Brooks greatest asset was understanding he was working with a person, not with another political party.
“Everyone he came in contact with he was pretty kind too…,” she said. “He would always extend generosity and kindness to everyone.”
The kindness was extended when Brooks was sick with leukemia and he started receiving treatment. Heitman said Republican and Democratic members of the legislature would “come to check in” on the staff and ask how Brooks was doing.
“Just the fact so many different corners of the state would be checking in on us when he had his treatments last sessions,” she said. “It shows how far his reach was.”