Described by President Bill Clinton as “one of the best advisors and the ablest people I ever knew,” Ron Brown was a leading American man of influence in the second half of the 20th Century who impressed Republicans and Democrats alike with his intellect and administrative ability. Ronald Harmon Brown was born in Washington, D.C., on August 1, 1941. His father, William, was a graduate of Howard University and an official in the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. William Brown married Gloria Osborne in 1940. In 1947, William Brown left government service to become the manager of the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, then often frequented by the leading black intellectuals and celebrities in the U.S. This rarefied environment offered Brown a wealth of opportunities for high-level social interaction.
Brown exhibited leadership and negotiating skill early. Brown became the first African American member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity when he attended Middlebury College in Vermont. His entrance prompted the national fraternity to change its constitution to allow black members. In 1962, Brown graduated from Middlebury, married Alma Arrington, and became an officer in the U.S. Army where he commanded units stationed in the U.S., Germany and South Korea until 1967.
Returning to civilian life, Brown took a position with the National Urban League. He also attended St. John’s University Law School at night, graduating in 1970 and passing the bar in 1971. Brown stayed with the Urban League for more than a decade, rising to become its deputy executive director, general counsel, and vice-president of its Washington bureau. Through his work at the Urban League, he became known in Washington political circles and he eventually left in 1979 to work on the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
When Senator Kennedy returned to the Senate, he offered Brown a position as Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which the Massachusetts Senator chaired. Brown was recruited from