Mark Brandon has experienced a great deal of loss in his life, but you won’t find him hanging his head in sadness.
You’re more likely to find him as the resident jokester at the Yadkinville Rotary Club meetings or up on a stage playing guitar while his daughter sings.
Brandon was born in Elkin and raised in Yadkinville. As the youngest of four children he learned at an early age that he enjoyed having all eyes on him.
While attending Forbush High School, Brandon would experience some of the darkest days of his life. He lost one of his brother’s in a fatal car wreck in 1988, and then he lost his mother to cancer three years later. Before he graduated his father had suffered a heart attack but pulled through and his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“That whole four years of my high school career was like a make or break moment for me,” Brandon said. “I was either going to get drunk and do drugs all of the time or I was going to go on with my life. It sort of taught me to be tough.”
Brandon said that during this time he discovered his passion for music when his brother bought a Fender Stratocaster and amp and promptly abandoned it at home when he returned to NC State in the fall.
“It just would make that crunchy sound when I would hold down a power cord and strum the string; that sound could save you from being violent,” Brandon said. “You channel your emotions through the guitar. It’s a higher form that a lot of people don’t understand and most people take for granted I think.”
Brandon said that he was young and angry at this point in his life and music gave him an outlet to express that and release the anger he felt inside. Since then he has learned to play drums and bass and has found yet another passion in song writing and recording.
“I’m not a singer but I have a gift for rhythm,” Brandon said. “Most musical teachers and people like that would hate my music. Kurt Cobain and people like that are who I look up to. I like loud and aggressive but thoughtful music.”
Even though he had a passion for music, Brandon didn’t decide to pursue a career as a rock star. Instead he went to Gardner Webb University and Surry Community College where he studied business before ultimately joining the family insurance business at W.N. Ireland in Yadkinville.
The company was started by his great aunt, Jessie Brandon, and her husband, Nelson Ireland, in 1940. After Mr. Ireland died of a heart attack, Brandon’s grandfather came to help his sister maintain the business and it wound up being passed down the lines from son to son.
“I went to school for business and my dad basically told me that he needed some help,” Brandon said. “At the time we were starting to sell HMOs and he needed some help with that and insurance. He started me out with basically no salary and just told me to go out and sell and I did and it helped me to build up a lot of relationships around here.”
Brandon took over the business when he bought his father out in 2007 but he still shares a partnership with his father.
He says that insurance business may come across as boring and not very personal to most but that is not the case with W.N. Ireland.
“My kids think my job seems kind of boring but I get to talk to different people every day,” Brandon said. “I get to learn something new every day, especially with technology and the way that’s going. I like that.”
His experience running a small business in Yadkin County has left him with some pretty strong opinions about the importance of buying local.
“Anything you can buy from a local business, you should,” Brandon said. “We have nationally registered companies here that we can represent and sell our business to so if you can save five dollars by going to a big bank or spend an extra five dollars and supporting local people you really should buy local.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t support each other in this little community of Yadkinville and Yadkin County then it’s not going to exist,” Brandon continued. “We’ll just get swallowed up by Winston-Salem.”
When Brandon isn’t insuring the residents of Yadkin County he is spending time with his wife and three children.
Brandon said that hard times have recently struck his family once more with his middle child’s diagnosis of Type I diabetes.
“I have had a lot of hard days in my high school years but nothing has been harder than this,” Brandon said. “Talking to her about how to manage her diabetes and the realization that a little 9 year old has to understand that she will have to do this for the rest of her life is hard.”
On a brighter note, he gets to share his passion for music with his oldest daughter who has demonstrated a talent for singing. The 11 year old has been seen performing with her dad as guitarist at the Yadkin Valley Harvest Festival and the Rotary Club pancake breakfast.
“My oldest daughter is a talented singer,” Brandon said. “She has sung at quite a few events here and she just had her first paying gig in downtown Winston-Salem in December so that was cool and she’s getting some recognition for that. She’s very humble; unlike her dad.”
Brandon said that other than spending time trying to be a good father he likes to get out his competitive urges by playing basketball on his lunch breaks at the YMCA and playing golf on the weekends.
He also acts as the vice president of the Yadkin County Arts Council and a member and past president for the Yadkinville Rotary Club.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.