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Remarks at Ron Brown Recognition Ceremony and Reception

Friday, March 25, 2011

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's Remarks at Ron Brown Recognition Ceremony and Reception

I’d like to welcome you all to the U.S. Commerce Department.  That was a beautiful ceremony we just had outside, and I’m happy so many of you could join us in here.

Once again, we are joined by Ron’s wife Alma, his children Michael and Tracy, and their families.  

I’m deeply honored to speak about Ron’s impact at Commerce and I’ll try to capture the sentiment of all the people here at the department who had the privilege to work with him.  

But before I begin I would like to share a letter from Bill Daley, President Obama’s chief of staff and a former Secretary of Commerce:

“I am sorry that I can’t join the celebration today, but I wanted to send congratulations and best wishes to Alma, Michael, Tracy and all of you gathered in memory of Ron.

Ron was a trailblazer, a tireless advocate and a committed public servant. I was also proud to call him my friend. Ron’s mark on the Department of Commerce and this country will endure for generations and the dedication of Ron Brown Way today is a well-deserved memorial to his life of service to our nation.”

If we opened the microphone to all the Commerce people who had nice things to say about Ron Brown, this event could run through the whole weekend.

When Ron Brown first arrived at the Commerce Department in 1993, he already had a well-earned reputation as a trailblazer and a difference-maker.

Ron grew up in the United States at time when there were many barriers to the advancement of African Americans.  Ron spent the rest of his life breaking through those barriers.

He was the first African-American:

  • To integrate a fraternity at Middlebury College; and
  • To become a partner at his law firm Patton Boggs.

He was the first African-American:

  • To become chairman of the Democratic National Committee; and
  • To lead the Department of Commerce.

Ron Brown was a beloved figure in this building.  

He was warm and engaging, and he was a fierce defender of the employees and the organizations who do such great work at the Commerce Department everyday.

Ron’s tenure at Commerce was marked by a procession of impressive achievements.

Working with NOAA, he helped rebuild depleted fisheries and modernize the National Weather Service.

Working with NTIA, he led the Clinton administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force, helping to lay the groundwork for the spread of the Internet.  

Abroad, Ron Brown was a tireless advocate for American companies and their workers.  He led trade missions to five different continents that led to more than $80 billion in foreign deals for US businesses.

Ron was a strong believer in the importance of foreign trade to America's economic and national security.  He championed the concept of “commercial diplomacy” – the idea that expanding America's trade ties with foreign countries could be just as impactful as expanding our military or political ties. When people talk of commercial diplomacy, they remember Ron Brown.

After the Cold War ended, countries in Europe, Asia and South America began opening a door to the world.

Ron Brown was one of the first people to walk through these doors. And he was usually followed by a couple dozen American business leaders selling goods and services that could help these countries improve the quality of lives for their own people, while creating jobs here at home in America.

It was of course on one of these missions to Croatia where we lost Ron Brown and so many other valued members of:

  • The Commerce Department;
  • The business community;
  • The military; and
  • Other colleagues from throughout the government.

We honor the service of these people who perished trying to bring economic opportunity and hope to a war-torn region that for too long had seen neither.

For all the different work that Ron Brown did, he himself defined the purpose of the Commerce Department very simply.  He said:

“Our mission is to ensure economic opportunity for every American.”

And he understood that expanding America’s trade all around the world was one of the best ways to ensure that opportunity.

Fifteen years after Ron Brown left the Commerce Department, his work endures through the hundreds of dedicated Commerce employees who knew him and who still believe in Ron’s mission for the department.

Ron once said that he thought being Commerce Secretary was “the best job in Washington,” and he came to work every day with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose that inspired everyone he came across.

He is greatly missed here, as are the valued Commerce employees we lost on that April day in 1996.  

And I am proud we’ve all gathered today to ensure that their memory endures.

Thank you.