Ronald H. Brown (1941-1996)
Ron Brown was the first African-American appointed to the Cabinet post of Secretary of Commerce and the first to serve as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. At the time of his death in 1996, he was a figure of global prominence, respected for his intelligence, political savvy and leadership.
Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in New York City, Mr. Brown attended Middlebury College in Vermont. He served for four years in the U.S. Army, posted to Germany and Korea. He earned a law degree from St. John’s University, attending classes at night while working first as a welfare caseworker for the City of New York, then for the National Urban League. He spent twelve years with the Urban League as Deputy Executive Director, General Counsel, and Vice President of the Washington bureau. During this time, he became involved in politics and worked on Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1980. An appointment followed as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee under the chairmanship of the Senator.
In 1981 Mr. Brown joined Patton, Boggs & Blow, becoming the first African-American partner at this prestigious firm in the nation’s capital. He proved himself a skillful negotiator and was highly sought after as a lobbyist. He continued to be active in politics, serving as the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s convention manager in his 1988 bid for the presidency.
Mr. Brown used his skills as a negotiator and pragmatic bridge builder in his successful tenure as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1989 to 1992, reuniting the Party after its defeat in the 1988 presidential election and leading it to victory in 1992. Having earned a cabinet-level appointment in President Clinton’s administration, he was named Secretary of Commerce.
Bringing his trademark activist style to the Department of Commerce, Mr. Brown was a tireless advocate for American business both at home and overseas. The Secretary circled the globe, spreading good will with his characteristic enthusiasm and cultivating opportunities and markets for American products. It was on one such trade mission that he died in a plane crash in war-torn Eastern Europe.