Conley Brooks was a quiet pillar in Twin Cities business and philanthropy, part of a generation of Minnesotans who believed in giving back to the community with diligence, persistence and care.
Brooks, of Wayzata, died Dec. 16 of natural causes at 92.
“He was an icon,” said Gordon Sprenger, former CEO of Allina Health System and Brooks’ friend for more than four decades. “We’re losing a generation of Minnesotans who cared so much about our state and about people — a generation that made our community great.”
Born in St. Paul, Brooks led his family’s successful lumber business, Brooks Scanlon Inc., for many years, serving as chairman, CEO and board member. In fact, he never quite retired, even though the firm was sold in 1980. He kept busy with family enterprises and corporate boards despite suffering a stroke at age 89.
“He was always in the office, he had a flair for making things happen and he was interested in everyone,” said his son Conley Brooks Jr. “He was our patriarch.”
Brooks was immersed in the local business and philanthropic communities, serving as a board member and trustee at Carleton College, as chairman of the Minneapolis Foundation, and as trustee of Abbott Northwestern Hospital and affiliated organizations, including the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. He also was a long-standing member of the board at First National Bank of Minneapolis, now US Bank, Northwestern National Life Insurance Co. and others.
Brooks grew up in Eastcliff, his family’s home, which later became the official residence of University of Minnesota presidents. He attended St. Paul Academy, then Yale University, where he and Ken Dayton of the Dayton’s department store family worked as orderlies at a Connecticut hospital. The experience sparked an abiding interest in medicine — they long called each other “Doc.”
Brooks served in the Army Air Forces as a flight instructor in World War II, honing a lifelong interest in airplanes.
“If you were out walking with him and there was a plane overhead, he’d stop, look up and identify the plane,” said his daughter Sky Brooks.
That curiosity would serve Brooks well when he led the difficult merger of Abbott Hospital and Northwestern Hospital to form Abbott Northwestern Hospital in 1970. Brooks handled the delicate negotiations with aplomb.
“He was a kind, gentle person, and such a good listener,” said Sprenger, who was the president of Northwestern Hospital at the time. Brooks also was instrumental in the merger of the Blake School and Northrop School in 1974.
Brooks and his wife of nearly 68 years, Marney, traveled the world over, and he enjoyed myriad interests from photography to fancy automobiles (many of them convertibles). But he especially thrived in the company of his family, which included 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Daughter Sky said her father delighted in simple pleasures — whether it was playing fetch with the family dog or hitching a toboggan to his Jeep. Sprenger especially enjoyed meeting Brooks for waffles in Wayzata. “He would always want to know what was going on at the hospital, in the medical world, in my world,” he said.
“I really believe that having an ongoing curiosity about life contributes to longevity,” he added. “That was certainly the case with Con.”
In addition to his son Conley Jr. and daughter Sky, Brooks is survived by three other children, Marlow Brooks, Stephen B. Brooks and Markell Hapka. His wife died in 2012. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 6 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.