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

By Joe Lockhart
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
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

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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.

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