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

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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 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. And also accomplished much more in the federal government.

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, instructed Jesse to offer a cut in his budget and take the political heat, sparing the president. Brown declined.

Panetta puts Clinton on the phone to work his charm…

[Your Business Blogger 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 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 have an extended conversation and Clinton oozes all all-round the topic — but never makes a direct statement; never a directive. Bill 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 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.

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From U.S. Medicine

WASHINGTON-Jesse Brown, who served as the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs from 1993 to 1997, died Aug. 15 after a long battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 58.

Brown served as a Marine in Vietnam and was wounded by enemy fire in 1965 while on patrol near Da Nang, shattering his right arm. He spent most of his career working for the Disabled American Veterans and rose up through the ranks. From 1989-1993, he served as their executive director in Washington, D.C. before becoming secretary of VA. After leaving VA in 1997, he formed a worldwide consulting group called Brown & Associates.

Jesse sat on the board of Maximus and advised Your Business Blogger on the Year 2000 rollover during my tenure in government.

“Jesse’s powerful mind remained sharp and engaged throughout his struggle with ALS,” said DAV National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson. “Even during the last days of his life, Jesse was providing active leadership in the effort to construct a memorial for disabled veterans in Washington, D.C. He just never stopped.”

Under Brown’s leadership, VA underwent a number of significant changes. The Veterans Health Administration decentralized its health care structure and was transformed from a mainly inpatient system to one more centered on outpatient care.

Under his watch, VA also expanded benefits for former prisoners of war and veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. He also worked to increase services to homeless veterans. During his tenure, VA convened the first national summit on homeless veterans.

“Jesse Brown was the veteran’s veteran-a man of unceasing commitment and advocacy for all who have served their country, especially those who were disabled in service,” said current VA secretary Anthony J. Principi. “He leaves many friends at VA and throughout the veterans community. We are saddened not only by this personal loss, but also by the stilling of his staunch voice and good counsel.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), chairman of the House VA Committee, called Brown “a great Marine, American patriot and lifelong veterans’ advocate.” The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) praised Brown for instituting the “Putting Veterans First” policy and for beginning a cultural change at VA. “Jesse was a remarkable leader,” said VVA national president Thomas H. Corey. “He was a brother, working closely with VVA in our battle to improve conditions for all veterans of all generations.”

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2 Responses

  1. What a great tribute to your friend. Today is a special day for me too….it is our 15th wedding anniversary today, and I actually heard someplace that it’s also Phyliss Schafleys birthday.

  2. Jack says:

    Stacy, Congratulations on year 15!

    We Charmaine and Your Business Blogger first got married, all the old-timers said, “Relax, the years will pass so fast…”

    And then the Penta-posse began to arrive and they said, “Relax, the years will pass so fast…”

    And, like the wisdom of the ages, the old-timers were right.

    Perhaps we should “relax, the years will pass so fast…”

    Thanks again for your comment,

    Jack (and Charmaine)

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