Lunch with Marjorie: Living a real life down on the ice and at home—part one

Brion Roberts and I met at Mary’s Market at Edgebrook. He’s a Rockford native.

“Rockford gets a bad rap, doesn’t it?” I said.

“Rockford has a cloud hanging over it,” he said. “We make a lot of bad decisions. We had a chance years ago—this is an opinion—for the Chrysler plant. We blew that. Fifteen years ago, Diamond Star goes to Bloomington. How does Northern Illinois University end up in DeKalb, a farm community? We’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities. I am not a politician, and I don’t play one on TV, but I’m a taxpayer. I see a lot of things that are wrong, and I do have opinions about them. I do vote.”

“You’re allowed to leave,” I said.

“Certainly,” he said. “But I love Rockford—my family’s here.”

I ordered a power scone, quiche and a fruit cup. Brion had scrambled eggs and bacon.

“This will probably be a little much, volume wise, but we’ll be here a while,” I said.

I knew he’d had gastric bypass, and that his life changed dramatically. I had to get the story.

Brion has always been mechanically inclined.

“I worked at the local gas station, body shop, and a used car lot as a clean-up kid, sweeping floors, taking out trash,” he said. “I wasn’t the cool kid. I was the geeky, fat kid.”

But he majored in criminal justice at Bradley University in Peoria.

“I was going to save the world,” he said. “You’re pretty idealistic at that age. My senior year, my older brother, a Rockford policeman, was involved in a shooting. At that point, I re-evaluated a lot of things. I’m a big target,” he referred to his 6-foot, 3-inch frame and increasing weight.

“Ultimately, I wanted to be a motor cop in Las Vegas,” he said. “Motorcycle cop—that’s an ego trip in itself. My father lived out there at the time. Mom and Dad were divorced.”

His mom worked in public housing; they lived in public housing; she was a hard-working single mom who put four kids through college.

“I remember going to church; she’s singing hymns, but she ain’t looking in the book,” he said. “Strong faith, strong woman.”

He went to a church on Seventh Street, and remembers Deacon Davis, former Harlem Globetrotter, went to that church.

“Very cool guy,” he said.

“I wanted to be a writer…always loved the macho stuff…Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joe Wambaugh…always liked the risky excitement, thrill-seeking stuff,” he said.

He opted for the automotive field, working into management. He managed Pep Boys on State Street for 11 years.

“Talk to me about your gastric bypass,” I said.

“I was always fat…always a big kid,” he said. “Going back to the psychological, unhappy home as a child, (food) being comfort…being fat, seeking comfort. You just compound it. As you get older, it’s less activity, more comfort and boom, boom, boom, it just snowballs. I went in for my evaluation for the surgery…2002…the Bariatric clinic in Belvidere. It’s $85 for the evaluation. Money well spent. They get it all cleared with the insurance company. It’s major surgery—big-dollar surgery.”

“What did you weigh then?” I asked.

“I was 521 pounds,” he said. “The doctor told me I was the ideal candidate—no chronic physical ailments.”

“Were you a yo-yo?” I asked.

“No, no. Always gaining,” he said. “Little bit, little bit, kept climbing the mountain. Just compounding it myself. Never yo-yo. I’m a member of the clean plate club. The kids in China are still starving because of me.”

“Why did you make this choice?” I asked.

“I was hurting,” he said. “You get tired of getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home tired, sitting down, falling asleep on the couch, then getting up and making something to eat, then falling asleep again, waking up and going to bed. You do that for so long. It was either have the surgery or die in five years…a self-diagnosis. I would just keep on ballooning unless I had it done.”

The surgery is called the “Rouen-Y Gastric Bypass.” They take the stomach, cut it down the middle, shrink the upper part, and the bottom part still produces gastric juices for digestion. The upper part is a pouch, a semi-digestive chamber.

“The day of the surgery, it’s the size of two golf balls,” he said. “You can’t keep anything down…aversion therapy the first week. Part of the lower intestine is routed to the stomach for fast elimination of sugars and fats.”

The new way of eating worked. Brion’s weight is now 353 pounds. His goal is 250.

“What would you tell someone considering the surgery?” I asked.

“It works,” he said. “I would recommend it to anyone who can do it.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at

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