Jeff Ackerman: A young man departs, a community mourns
I’d guess there were more than 2,000 people inside and outside Twin Cities Church on a cold, overcast Thursday afternoon. They filled and overflowed the new and spectacular facility on Ridge Road to say goodbye to Michael Bratton II, the eldest son of Michael and Robin Bratton.
The Bratton family, you see, has touched many lives in our community. Especially at Nevada Union High School, where the four Bratton children (Michael, Jennifer, Joey and Kevin) spent so many years.
We shouldn’t have been there Thursday afternoon; at least not to say goodbye to such a young and talented and good man. There aren’t enough of them to spare. Michael was only 25 years old and had so much more to contribute to this community and to this world.
His friends – many of them former high school teammates – stood at the podium, struggling to fight back the tears, struggling to understand why they were standing there trying to explain the tremendous loss in the first place. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It wasn’t the plan.
From the video screens above the stage, Michael smiled that all-American smile of his, as if to say, “It’s okay. I’m okay. Don’t cry for me.” His friends say Michael was always worried about others and he would not have wanted to see his friends so distraught, so pained and so sad.
I met his father maybe 21 years ago, when we were both members of what was called the “Active 20/30 Club,” which was a community service group of young guys who met each week for lunch at the Holbrook. We were Mike’s son’s age then. I had hair and it wasn’t gray.
Mike was a proud father who worked hard to build his insurance business. He’s the kind of guy who does well at everything because he puts everything into everything he does.
And that’s especially true when it comes to his community service. When I returned to Nevada County to publish this newspaper four years ago, I remember running on the track at NU and every time I completed a lap, I ran across Mike Bratton’s name and insurance company logo. You can’t go far at the high school without running into Mike. He headed the NU Boosters Club and remains active even after his last child has graduated.
His son was very much the same. Not far from the stage sat members of the NU freshman football team that Michael II helped coach. They say he knew NU’s famed “Wing T” offense better than most anyone and that he was an inspirational leader. I suspect that was due in large part to his drive to succeed, to press on in spite of the odds. A former coach described Michael as too small and too slow to make it on the football field. He took that as a personal challenge and worked his tail off in an effort to make the team, knowing that his biggest fans would be his family. He ultimately did and they were.
When he left NU, Michael attended Sierra College and then Sac State, where he graduated with a marketing degree. I remember his dad standing at a Rotary meeting one morning to pay a fine just so he could brag about his son and how he was looking forward to working alongside him in the insurance business. His namesake. The baby son he gave his name to.
Michael decided to go out on his own, so he secured real estate broker’s license and went to work with Mimi Simmons at ERA Cornerstone. One of his mentors was my friend Greg Seghezzi, who pretty much heads the ERA office at the Alpha Building in Grass Valley.
I’d pop over every once in awhile to see Greg and almost always bump into Michael, whose great looks and big smile always left me feeling … well … old. I ran by the office last Friday morning after a chamber of commerce meeting and Michael was the only one in the building. He was huddled over a computer screen intently studying some real estate listing. I tapped on the window and said hello. He looked up, smiled and waved.
“What a great kid,” I remember thinking, heading off to my own day ahead. “What a great kid.”
There is nothing I can say to Michael, or Robin, or Jennifer, or Joey, or Kevin that will ease their pain. Their loss is profound. Michael was a son, a brother, and a very big member of one of this community’s all-time great families.
My hope is that this community that the Bratton family has so ably served will now take some time to help with the healing.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column usually appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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