White House staffer dies during charity bicycle ride

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By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

A White House staffer and Alexandria resident was killed September 19 in Howard County, Md. while participating in a charity bicycle ride to raise money to fight cancer. Jacob Thomas Brewer, 34, died near Mount Airy at about 3:40 p.m. when he lost control of his bicycle at a sharp curve on Old Frederick Road. It collided with an oncoming vehicle, police said.

Brewer was participating in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a two-day, 150-mile ride to and from RFK Stadium in D.C. that takes riders through the region’s countryside. It benefits the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Sibley Memorial, Suburban and Howard County general hospitals.

“All who are associated with the ride are deeply saddened and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the rider,” a statement on the event’s website reads.

Brewer is listed — under the first name Jake — on the White House website as a senior policy adviser in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. In a statement released Sunday, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said Brewer’s job saw him oversee the administration’s efforts to connect people and places to the opportunities that come from the development of new technologies. He helped to advance the administration’s TechHire initiative to create more pathways to well-paying tech jobs and accelerate the use of data to inform workplace training. He also supported efforts to expand access to broadband Internet.

“Throughout his life, Jake dedicated his creativity, brilliance, enthusiastic optimism and actions to helping others,” Smith said in a statement. “He believed that public service could not only improve people’s lives but also change for the better our very notion of the good that our government can deliver: a nation of the people, for the people, by the people which brings the best of our country to bear — collaborating together on our toughest challenges using our
best approaches.

“He had a generous heart and a vision for engaging with technology, data, and most importantly each other, to create opportunity and find solutions together. Jake lived and loved more in his 34 years than some people do in their whole lives.”

President Barack Obama also mourned Brewer’s passing in a statement released the same day.

“We set out to recruit the best of the best to join their government and help us harness the power of technology and data to innovate new solutions for the 21st century,” Obama said in a statement. “Simply put, Jake was one of the best. Armed with a brilliant mind, a big heart, and an insatiable desire to give back, Jake devoted his life to empowering people and making government work better for them. He worked to give citizens a louder voice in our society. He engaged our striving immigrants. He pushed for more transparency in our democracy. And he sought to expand opportunity for all.”

Brewer was a Tennessee native and attended Vanderbilt University. Before working at the White House, he led global policy and external affairs at Change.org, and was cofounder and board president of Define American, an organization that works to reframe the debate on immigration in media and culture. He also led the engagement division of the Sunlight Foundation, launched a veterans’ employment initiative with the White House and Code for
America, helping create U.S. Ignite — a national initiative to improve health care, education and transportation through the use of Internet applications; and designing the national Civic Data Challenge to bring critical “civic health” data to decision-makers.

“I know that the members of Team CTO — indeed, all of us in OSTP and across the EOP — are in mourning over this terrible loss and struggling to think of ways we can help,” Dr. John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology and the director of the office of science and technology policy, said in a statement. “I know, too, that our grief will be matched in the days ahead by our solidarity and determination to support each other and find every appropriate way to honor Jake and help his beautiful young family through this impossibly painful time.”

Brewer is survived by his wife, Mary Katharine Ham, and their daughter, Georgia. A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds to provide for their children’s education.

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