Secretary of Veterans Affairs 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 to do something many government watchdogs felt impossible: As Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, 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 Secretary Brown 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
As Jesse Brown tells the story, the chief of staff, Leon Panetta, I believe, called Jesse and instructed him to initiate and implement a sizable cut in his budget–and then take the ensuing political heat, sparing the president any collateral damage from Veterans’ groups.
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.
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.
Job Interview: 3 Questions for Your Prospective Boss
Both President Obama and Secretary Brown called Chicago ‘home.’ The VA Medical Center in Chicago is named after Jesse Brown.
Update 28 Oct 2010, Florida candidate Meek is another black man who resisted the “First Black President” Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton Urged Meek to Quit Fla. Senate Race to Stop Rubio.