Skip to main content

James Brady: The warrior, the hero, the 'Bear'

By Joe Lockhart
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ex-Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart remembers James Brady, who died Monday at 73
  • Brady became an advocate for gun control after being shot with President Reagan
  • The White House press briefing room was renamed for Brady in 2000
  • Lockhart: Pure and simple, Brady accomplished the politically impossible

Editor's note: Joe Lockhart was press secretary for President Bill Clinton from 1998-2000. He was a founding partner and managing Ddirector of The Glover Park Group and a former VP of communications for Facebook. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- I first heard Jim Brady's name as I was walking into my college cafeteria early one evening in 1981. A somber radio voice announced the passing of Brady, the White House Press Secretary who had been shot along with President Ronald Reagan, not more than a couple of miles from campus.

Thankfully, the report turned out to be wrong. Brady survived his wounds that day, although he was left with slurred speech, partial paralysis and difficulty walking.

It was not the first, nor the last time Jim Brady's strength and resilience was underestimated. Although I could not have predicted it at the time, it was not the last time I'd hear about Jim Brady.

James Brady, former Reagan press secretary, gun-control advocate, dies

Joe Lockhart
Joe Lockhart

I'd like to think Jim and I had a few things in common. We both worked our way up in the rough and tumble politics game. We both had a distant dream that someday we'd get to work in the White House briefing room. Jim found his guy with the former governor of California. Mine was the governor from Arkansas.

But I don't look at Jim as a colleague or a fellow warrior who survived the verbal battle that is the White House briefing room. Jim is, and always will be, something bigger, something that transcends politics and Washington celebrity.

I remember speaking to a group of young students one day in the briefing room. One of the kids asked me who my hero was. I don't think anyone had ever asked me that before. But it didn't take long for me to tell them the heroic story of Jim Brady.

I explained that Jim had something terrible happen to him. He was just doing his job one day, a job he loved, when everything he knew about his life and the world was turned upside down.

Congress, finish the job on Brady background checks

Click through to see people who passed away in 2014. Click through to see people who passed away in 2014.
People we lost in 2014
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: People we lost in 2014 Photos: People we lost in 2014
2011: James, Sarah Brady on Giffords

With great strength and perseverance, Jim survived a gunshot wound to his head. But that's not what made him great. What made him a hero was what he did with his life from that day forward.

Jim had every right to be bitter. He'd worked all his life to get to the pinnacle of his profession. And before even getting settled into his fancy White House office, it was all taken away. His rehabilitation was beyond painful. That was nothing compared to the frustration of relearning the most basic things we all take for granted.

While he did growl from time to time, the "Bear" was never bitter. His reaction was just the opposite. He turned his own pain and tragedy into a positive, working every day to make the world a little better, a little safer for all of us.

Jim became the lead campaigner for gun control in our country. If you've been watching this debate at all in America, you know there is nothing tougher politically than getting sensible gun safety measures through our toxic political system. Many have talked about it, given speeches, run ads and used celebrity to highlight the issue.

Working with leaders like President Bill Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer, Jim -- and his not-so-secret-weapon wife Sarah -- got it done. Pure and simple, he accomplished the politically impossible.

The man who made people talk about guns

That is why in 2000, late in the administration, President Clinton decided to rename the briefing room in honor of James Brady. It was a small gesture, symbolic for most. But for the men and women who stand behind that podium it is very real.

It reminds each of us that every time we step up to that microphone we should hold ourselves to the highest standard of all. The standard set by Jim Brady.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT