Curious people have an intrinsic interest in the world around them. This is especially true of 95-year-old Nate Brightman, whose many accomplishments have left an indelible mark on Long Beach. In addition to his longtime service with the Red Cross, he is best known for creating the Queen Mary’s popular radio room.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, one of Brightman’s earliest passions was photography. At the age of 10, he became fascinated with the film development process.
“At that time, it was quite a complicated process. There were no developing tanks then. It was quite a hobby for a 10-year-old,” said Brightman.
He and his wife Evelyn and two kids, Lynne and Howard, moved to California in 1944. Lynne had been having ear infection problems, so her doctor suggested they move somewhere with a drier climate. When they arrived in Long Beach, Brightman started The Brightman Studio. He sold his store when a recession hit in 1950. He went on to work at Lou’s Stationers, a stationery and bookstore, for 39 years.
Brightman took up ham radio when his son was 12. Brightman already had an interest in earning an amateur radio license, but he didn’t think he could pass the Morse code test that was required then.
“I never figured I could learn Morse code, but once I got started with Howard I went right ahead. I really wanted to be involved myself, and it gave me a chance to be with my son. I’ve had such a close relationship with my children, my daughter and my son,” said Brightman.
Every Wednesday, Howard, Brightman and one of Brightman’s friends gathered for class. “I stayed a little ahead of them in the book so I could teach them,” Brightman said. “The three of us passed at the same time, a little less than a year after we started.”
A few years later, Brightman’s wife Evelyn wanted to join a ham radio club for women, so Brightman helped her learn too. At one point, the Council of Jewish Women asked him if he would teach blind children to become amateur radio operators.
“We had six students. My wife and my son taught Morse code to them, and I taught theory. For the schematic diagrams, which are drawings of electrical circuits, I took Masonite boards and cut them to about 11×14. Then I took a real thin rope and glued it down in the shape of the schematic diagram circuits. That way they could feel the way it was set up,” said Brightman.
In junior high school, Howard became involved with the Junior Red Cross group, and Brightman began volunteering for the Red Cross as well. He is still active with the organization almost 40 years later.
“It’s interesting work. During the Northridge Earthquake, I was shelter manager of a shelter at the Van Nuys High School gymnasium. We had a 5.0 aftershock at 3am, and people started to run out into the street. We stopped them at the doors and convinced them not to run outside,” said Brightman. “If people want to do something that gives them a great feeling, they should join the Red Cross. It’s so rewarding.”
Brightman’s involvement with the Queen Mary began when he learned about its last voyage. He thought there should be an amateur radio station aboard for the final journey. It took a lot of paper work, phone calls and long talks, but he succeeded. Years later, Brightman also successfully set up an amateur radio room at the Queen Mary.
“I had a hard time because I had to convince the man in charge to do it. We had to cut holes in the bulkheads to make windows. We had to redo the whole thing,” said Brightman.
The radio room opened in April of 1979 and has been in continuous use by amateur radio operators ever since. The Queen Mary was the first ship museum to have a ham station.
“It really was worthwhile because the station on the Queen Mary, W6RO, is now the most famous club station in the world. There were other museum ships at the time, but none of them had a ham station. We were the first ones. Now there are about 80 worldwide,” said Brightman.
Over the years, Brightman has received a number of awards for his service, including the Radio Amateur of the Year Award, the Dayton Hamvention Special Achievement Award, and the National Association for Amateur Radio’s Public Service Award. On his 90th birthday, the radio room aboard the Queen Mary was renamed the Nate Brightman Radio Room.
Today, he continues to work with the Red Cross and the Nate Brightman Radio Room and has recently decided to learn Hebrew. “When I was 10 years old, my mother wanted me to study it, but I didn’t like the teacher. I would run out the back door when I saw him coming. I finally decided, like almost everything, I’ll just take a shot at learning it. I’m working on it,” said Brightman.
Howard admires the dedication and love his dad has for his family, friends and community. “My dad is a very caring man,” he said. “He has such love and concern for the people in his life– his family, friends and the people he works with. I think that’s why they like him so much.”