Man blamed for Oscar flap grew up near Conway

Brian Cullinan's valley pals say: Much ado about nothing

By Margaret McKenzie, Alec Kerr, Lloyd Jones and Daymond Steer
The Conway Daily Sun
CONWAY — How did it happen?

How did Brian Cullinan — standout athlete at Kennett High School, Class of 1978; Cornell and Northeastern grad; respected accounting executive, husband and father — become the "scapegoat of the Oscars," according to one headline on Monday.

Was it human error, as claimed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm for which Cullinan worked for decades? Or was he set up by a conspiracy to put "the Oscars" on everyone's lips, as others believe?

Whatever the reason, the 57-year-old former Mount Washington Valley resident — who was seen visiting the North Conway Pizza Hut just three weeks ago — is at the heart of what's been called the biggest blunder in awards history: giving out the wrong envelope on Sunday night at the 89th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, California.

Instead of handing presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the Best Picture results, Cullinan gave them the Best Actress envelope, leading Dunaway to announce "La La Land" as best picture (Emma Stone of "La La Land" had taken the actress category minutes earlier).

But another film, "Moonlight," was the true winner, as it emerged. Confusion and shock reigned in the Dolby Theatre, as one group of producers had to hand off their golden statuettes to another, live on stage.

The story quickly went viral across every news outlet worldwide.

Details of the mix-up trickled out. There were actually two sets of ballots. So it is easy to see how Cullinan could have reached in his briefcase and taken out the wrong one.

But no excuses were made.

The following day, the accounting firm that has tabulated Oscar balloting since 1935 issued an apology:

"PwC takes full responsibility for the series of mistakes and breaches of established protocols during last night's Oscars. PwC partner Brian Cullinan mistakenly handed the back-up envelope for Actress in a Leading Role instead of the envelope for Best Picture to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough by Mr. Cullinan or his partner."

Although Cullinan — who now lives in Malibu, California, with wife, Andrea, and kids Brett, Drew and Bree — has been with the firm since 1997 and currently is PwC's U.S. board chairman and managing partner for Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, he's been in charge of Oscar balloting only since 2014.

But there's no question he is qualified for the job. According to his company bio, "the PwC partner and Matt Damon lookalike" has more than 30 years experience providing technical accounting, auditing and business advisory services "to some of PwC's largest and most complex multinational clients."

But as Cullinan said in a video on the company website, the Oscars "are the most fun jobs you can have as accountant." He added that every year, "there are a few memorable experiences," including the time actress Cate Blanchett jokingly tried to steal the briefcase with the envelopes on the red carpet.

But no experience would be as memorable as this year's.

"The producers decide what the order of the awards will be," Cullinan told Medium in a Feb. 10 article leading up to the big night. "We each have a full set. I have all 24 envelopes in my briefcase; (fellow accountant Martha Ruiz) has all 24 in hers. We stand on opposite sides of the stage, right off-screen, for the entire evening, and we each hand the respective envelope to the presenter. It doesn't sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you're giving the presenter the right envelope."

Speculation has begun that Cullinan may have been distracted by Twitter. Three minutes before the Best Picture presentation, Cullinan posted a since-deleted photo of Stone holding her gold statuette with the tweet "Best Actress Emma Stone backstage! #PWC."

The envelope itself may have also been a factor. It was the first year since 2011 that Marc Friedland Couture Communications of Los Angeles did not design it.

"I can't say our envelope would have prevented it, but we put measures in to make it as foolproof as possible, such as really legible, very big type," Marc Friedland told the Los Angeles Times.

Friedland's envelopes also were gold, with large labels stating the categories. This year's red envelopes had smaller gold lettering that may have been hard to read.

"We always were concerned about the fact the presenters could get them out of the envelope easily and that they were easily legible," Friedland said. "I think it's just a flaw in the design and human error that contributed to this."

Meanwhile, sympathy is the overwhelming emotion being conveyed here in the valley by friends of the Cullinan family.

Linda Burns, secretary at Kennett Middle School, attended Jackson Grammar School with Brian Cullinan. "We were in the same class," she said. "I was also on the swim team with Brian. We would practice at the pool at the old Tyrol ski resort in Jackson."

Burns, a valley native, said her heart goes out to Cullinan. "We all make very high-pressure, sudden decisions. I am sure the adrenalin levels were sky high at those awards. So, we're human. We make mistakes," she said. "Yes, I am sure he's devastated. But in the grand scheme of things, no one got hurt. It's much ado over nothing."

Brian P. Wiggin of Conway remembers Brian's mother, who worked at the Henney History Room at the Conway Public Library.

Ann Cullinan, who died at age 88 in 2012, "was a wonderful, fun-loving lady, one of those people who did so many things for the community," Wiggin said.

Brian Cullinan, Wiggin recalled, "was a friend of my late brother Errol at Kennett. Errol was a year older than Brian. They were on the ski team together.

"It's such a shame what happened at the Oscars," Wiggin said. "It could have happened to any one of us."

Don Trimble, 80, who lives in Conway and was a legendary coach at the junior high school, still has a good relationship with his former standout athlete, who played football, skied and also excelled at track and field.

In his senior year, Cullinan was the New Hampshire State Decathlon champion.

He held the New England record for the boys' high school javelin toss of 227 feet until 1982. That mark is still the Kennett record. Cullinan also holds the school record in the discus with a toss of 15 feet, 9 inches.

"We had lunch a few weeks ago at Pizza Hut when he was back for a visit," Trimble said.

Trimble said Cullinan was "an excellent athlete, a decent student" and "someone who was very quiet and never tooted his own horn" while growing up with his four siblings — David, Christopher, John and Cathleen — and parents Arthur and Ann in Intervale.

"It's really sad to see this happen," Trimble said of the Oscar mishap. "I can't believe Warren Beatty. I have a big-screen TV, and even I could see it read 'Actress' on the envelope. He must have been smoking something. I mean, Emma Stone — everyone knows that isn't a movie.

"It's a shame, but what have we learned from history is, "Confess, say you're sorry and you wish that it never happened,'" Trimble said, adding, "Brian is taking full responsibility."

Trimble recalled driving Cullinan to White Plains, New York, his sophomore year, where he won the prestigious Glenn D. Loucks Memorial track meet, which featured 1,600 competitors. It was there that Cullinan met Jim Wallace, coach of the Cornell track and field team.

"I've seen him a few times over the years," Trimble said of Cullinan. "He'll call up, and we'll go to lunch or just get a cup of coffee, and we'll sit on the picnic table up at John Cannell's Country Store (in Intervale)."

Cullinan attended Cornell on a track scholarship and was training for the 1980 Olympics when a motorcycle crash shortened his athletic career.

He still holds the record at Cornell for the javelin with a throw of 250 feet, 2 inches, set in 1982. He also holds the freshman javelin record of 235 feet.

Inducted into the KHS Sports Hall of Fame in October 1992 by former coach John Rist, Cullinan credited much of his athletic success to his coaches and thanked them for the positive impact they had on his life.

"Some of the coaches I had in high school were every bit as good as the ones I had in college. Probably all too often the coaches don't realize the impact they have on their athletes. I just want to thank them for their dedication. Without them I would not be here tonight."

Brian's brother, David Cullinan, who is the manager of the Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg, Maine, said on Tuesday he hadn't spoken to his brother since the Oscars.

"He's in California, and I'm in Maine," David Cullinan said.

02-28 brian cullinan martha ruiz

Brian Cullinan and fellow PwC accountant Martha Ruiz hold the briefcases containing the 24 winners that would be announced at the 89th Academy Awards this past Sunday. (Courtesy PWC)

02-28 Brian Cullinan javelin at Cornell University in 1982

Brian Cullinan is shown throwing the javelin at Cornell University in 1982. He attended college on a track scholarship. His javelin record there still stands. (Courtesy photo)

Shaker schools seek the public’s help with strategic plan


BELMONT — The Shaker Regional School District intends to host a strategic planning workshop on March 10-11, and district officials hope the public will attend to help brush up the district's planning document.
The 2012-2017 strategic plan lists objectives, such as offering a comprehensive educational experience "that will engage and challenge all students within the district"; and assuring that "the percentage of Shaker Regional School District students accepted to post-secondary education will continue to exceed the state average."
"Vision areas" in the 2012-2017 plan focus on facilities and physical resources; curriculum, instruction and assessment; safety, health and a "respectful environment"; technology; communication; community outreach and partnership; and human resources and personnel.
Many of the facilities-related goals and recommendations were accomplished. These included providing a new gym floor at Canterbury Elementary School; and repairing the roof and replacing the bleachers at Belmont Middle School. Shaker Regional's Director of Building and Grounds Doug Ellis reported that the gym floor at Canterbury Elementary School and the bleachers at Belmont Middle School have been replaced.
The roof at Belmont Middle School was partially replaced, and this job will be finished this fiscal year, Ellis reported. At the Jan. 24 School Board meeting, the board learned that Melanson in Bow put in a bid for $170,000 to complete roof repairs on the gym, fifth-grade unit and memorial building next to the gym, according to records of the meeting. This bid was under a budget of $171,000, and these three roofs will finish off the middle school roofs, the board reported. The bid was accepted by unanimous vote.
Goals and recommendations from the existing plan that await completion include building an auditorium for performing arts at Belmont High School, which Ellis reported is still in the planning stage; and improving the traffic flow at Belmont Middle School by moving or removing the historic Gale School to free up space for a bus loop and additional parking, which also is still in a planning stage.
Last year, voters narrowly voted against tearing down the old Gale School at the annual School District Meeting. No action regarding the Gale School was taken at this year's deliberative session, the first such session to be held in Belmont under the newly implemented SB2 format of School District Meeting.
The existing plan also recommended a host of comprehensive educational programs, including preschool and full-day kindergarten; literacy programs; STEM — science, technology, engineering and math – integration in curriculum; school-to-work and extended learning opportunities; and expanded advanced placement programs.
According to a press release from Superintendent Michael Tursi, Shaker Regional families, staff and community members are invited to update the school district's current "strategic direction." The plan, developed in 2015, "serves as the foundation for educating our students. It is now time to update the eight vision areas as outlined in the plan by adding action steps and timelines," Tursi reported in the press release.
During the two-day workshop, discussions will lead to identifying strategic goals for the next five years, Tursi reported. "The community's input is very important in this process," he reported. The workshop is Friday, March 10, from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 11, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Belmont High School.
The current plan is available on the district website ( under the "District Information" tab. Interested parties are urged to RSVP to register for one or both days, by Wednesday, March 8, to Alicia Sperazzo at 603-267-9223 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Milfoil - Fighting exotic aquatic weed a balancing act for city


LACONIA — Battling an exotic, invasive weed in Paugus Bay is something of a balancing act.

The city plans to use the powerful herbicide 2,4-D to knock back milfoil, a green, slimy plant that chokes shallow water, crowds out native plants, damages habitat, snags fishing lures and clogs boat engines.

At the same time, city officials don't want to diminish the quality of the drinking water the bay provides.

"That ranks as our top concern," City Manager Scott Myers said Tuesday. "No one is knowingly going to jeopardize our water supply."

The city last treated the lake two years ago, and the herbicide was applied in coves well clear of the water department's intake pipe at 988 Union Ave.

Testing revealed no trace of the chemical in the intake area or in the water being treated before being sent out for consumption.

Myers said the weed-fighting effort this summer will be drawn up in a way to again prevent herbicide from getting near the intake point. Divers may be used to hand-pull some of the weeds.

The city has $46,000 to fund the effort, including almost $14,000 in state funds.

Laconia Water Superintendent Seth Nuttelman said that even though no trace of 2,4-D has been found in the drinking water, there are still concerns about the herbicide.

"You're always concerned that if something goes wrong in the process, there could be a problem," he said.

"There's not a lot of documentation where these herbicides have been used in a drinking water source. The water board wants to err on the side of caution."

Nuttelman said it would be best if a flow study could be performed to better understand how herbicides dropped into one part of the bay could flow to another area.

Myers said such a study would cost $170,000 and funding has not been identified to do this.