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August 18, 2009

Jesse Brown: Mentor & The Man Who Said No To Bill Clinton

August 18, 2009 | By | No Comments

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Jesse Brown My friend and mentor Jesse Brown died on 15 August 2002.

I’m not sure I thanked him enough while he lived.

So I try to acknowledge him every August since he passed.

He died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. But, for the Hand of Divine Providence, he should have died decades earlier in Vietnam.

He survived and devoted his life to service to others and mentoring goofs like Your Business Blogger(R).

And, he accomplished much in the federal government — in what he did. And didn’t do.

The combat wounded Marine was able to do two things few bureaucrats have been able to do:

Close a government facility, and


Say No to President Clinton.

Jesse Brown managed something many government watchdogs felt impossible: He worked with veterans’ lobbies and closed out-dated or non-performing Veterans’ Administration medical facilities.

These days when a government building or base needs to be closed, a special commission is set up to spread the guilt and minimize finger pointing.

Jesse Brown closed government buildings. Unbelievable. And he was a Democrat.

But an even bigger achievement was his ability to refuse Bill Clinton. Over lunch he told me the story of how he tactfully, adroitly rebuffed the chief of staff and the president’s “requests” to cut the VA budget.

Jesse Brown did not succumb to Clinton’s charms and other lies challenges.

As Jesse Brown tells the story, the chief of staff, Leon Panetta, I believe, called Jesse and instructed him to offer a sizable cut in his budget and take the political heat, sparing the president any collateral damage from Veterans’ groups.

Brown declined.

So Panetta then puts Clinton on the phone to work his charm…

[Your Business Blogger(R) once worked with a beautiful young woman from Arkansas — a rock-ribbed conservative — who met Bill Clinton.

“It was the strangest thing,” she said. “He ignored the whole rest of the room, looked deep into my eyes and asked for my vote.”

Your Business Blogger(R) didn’t move. It wasn’t too hard to see where this was going. “What did you say?” I asked.

She said, “I told him ‘yes.’ It was like he hypnotized me. I said yes…”

She wouldn’t be the last.]

…Panetta knowing that no one could resist Bill Clinton; no one could say ‘no.’

So Bill and Jesse had an extended conversation and Clinton oozes and slides all all-round the topic — but never makes a direct statement; never a suggestion; never a directive.

The President was simply smarmy and Jesse was un-seduced.

“Great talking with you Jesse,” said Clinton.

“Great talking with you Mr. President,” said Brown. And White House Signal signed off.

Jesse might well have been the only man to say “No” to Clinton.

Except for maybe Obama…

***

Jesse Brown was only 58 when he died.

He was wounded by enemy sniper fire in Vietnam leaving his right arm and hand partially paralyzed. This never slowed him down. People who knew Jesse always extended a left hand for a hand shake in greeting. His right wasn’t serviceable.

I once asked him when he was at the pinnacle of his career what drove him to work so hard. Money, I thought; status, celebrity? No. “I just want to help my friends,” he said.

His passion for service helped him become the Veteran’s Affairs Secretary for Bill Clinton.

And yet he helped me, a nobody who worked for a Republican, a Republican governor.

Jesse is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not far from my dad. Two warriors to whom I owe so much.

Semper Fidelis.

###

Three Duties of a Mentor

In Memoriam: Jesse Brown

Job Interview: 3 Questions for Your Prospective Boss

Follow us on Twitter: @JackYoest and @CharmaineYoest

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