Giving a hero his due – remembering Commerce Secretary Ron Brown – Publisher’s Page

Giving a hero his due – remembering Commerce Secretary Ron Brown – Publisher’s Page – Column

Earl G. Graves

One week to the day after Ronald H. Brown and his fellow travelers lost their lives in a plane crash on a Croatian mountainside, a traditional African American homecoming was held at Washington, D.C’s Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Unlike the very refined, formal state funeral that would be held the following morning at National Cathedral, this tribute was slated as a “celebration” for family and friends. Brown’s wife, Alma, and children, Michael and Tracey, graciously offered us the chance to gather with them to share our memories and to ruminate on an extraordinary life of service and achievement, marked at every turn by great energy and kindness.

In death, particularly such a sudden, shocking death, people are often transformed for the better. We laud and remember them not as they truly were, but as something richer, sweeter, greater. At Brown’s memorial, Rev. Jesse Jackson joked about the occasional need for eulogists to “hallucinate a life” for the survivors’ benefit. No such false effort was needed in the case of Ron Brown.

Congressman Charles Rangel talked about the proud and entrepreneurial parents who raised him; Tom Mehan, Brown’s roommate from Middlebury College, told of his all-white fraternity brothers happily losing their national charter rather than exclude a beloved, black classmate; American Express Vice Chairman Kenneth Chenault recalled Brown’s advice to him on becoming a new father: “You’ll never do anything more important than this.”

Brown’s law firm partner, Tommy Boggs, talked about his diligence and amazing finesse in handling clients; Senator Edward Kennedy spoke of Brown’s critical victories in Kennedy’s otherwise unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign; Mickey Kantor, Brown’s successor as Secretary of Commerce, marvelled over his unequaled feats as Democratic National Committee chairman; and Hazel O’Leary provided a window into Cabinet meetings, where Brown was consistently looked to for his wisdom, fairness and clarity on issues from cutting government spending to negotiating successful trade deals abroad.

About four hours into the service, around midnight, the standingroom-only crowd rose to its feet applauding the lifetime achievements of this great American hero, a man whom I was fortunate enough to count among my friends of more than 20 years. Standing there, the clapping of hundreds of hands filled the room with a thunderous roar that went on and on . . .

We continue that applause in this issue because Brown deserves no less. It’s that simple. While the Unabomber bumped him and his lost colleagues off of the rest of media’s pages and screens before the memorials even ended, we remain focused on a life that benefited every African American in this nation, whether by direct deed or mere example. No matter how high he rose–and make no mistake, he had reached the very heights of power in this nation–Ronald Harmon Brown remained true to who he was and, by extension, who and what we all are. His personal and professional impact transformed race, but his ego, his purpose and his greatest pleasure remained grounded in the community from which he sprang. We owe him more than a soundbite of thanks.

It is only fitting that we pay Brown tribute in the same issue that features the BLACK ENTERPRISE 100s–our annual listings of the nation’s largest African American-owned industrial/service companies, auto dealerships, financial institutions, investment banks and insurance firms. Brown was a vocal and active champion of minority-owned enterprise; even as his opponents and peers scoffed, Brown held fast to the tenet that American business cannot thrive if its minority-owned businesses cannot thrive. We take great pride each year in highlighting the achievements of those enterprises–such as our companies of the year, Karl Kani Infinity, Gulf Freeway Pontiac-GMC and Carver Federal Savings Bank–that are leading the pack in this, our 24th Annual Report on Black Business.

This year’s BE 100s marks the beginning of a new era of sorts. At the first Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference in Orlando in May, the BE Company of the Year awardees will be honored at a black tie gala. Just as Ron Brown participated in our magazine’s 25th Anniversary Gala last August, we would have liked him to be there with us in May. In our hearts and in our entrepreneurial spirits, he will be.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group