Alexandria native, gun control advocate Sarah Brady dead at 73

Alexandria native, gun control advocate Sarah Brady dead at 73

By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

She spent her life battling for greater control on the sale and distribution of firearms after her husband was shot and left partially paralyzed. Susan Brady died of pneumonia in the Goodwin House retirement community in Alexandria at the age of 73.

Brady was the widow of James Brady, President Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on the president. She campaigned tirelessly against the might of the National Rifle Association with Handgun Control, Inc., which was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2000 in her and her husband’s honor.

Born in Kirksville, Mo. and was raised in Alexandria, Brady graduated from the-then Francis C. Hammond High School in 1959. After studying at the College of William & Mary, she served as a public school teacher in Virginia and married James Brady in 1975.

The longtime Republican worked as assistant to the campaign director for the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1968 to 1970. She then worked as an administrative aide, first for U.S. Rep. Mike McKevitt (R-Colo.) and then for Joseph J. Maraziti (R-N.J.). From 1974 to 1978, she worked as director of administration and coordinator of field services for the Republican National Committee.

But it was as a gun-control advocate that she gained prominence following her husband’s wounding at the hands of John W. Hinckley Jr. and a moment in 1985 when their only child, James Jr., pointed a loaded .22-caliber pistol at her thinking it was a toy. She began her efforts against the gun lobby that same year, and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille remembers an orator and activist who always made people sit up and take notice.

“[Sarah] was a top-notch speaker,” Euille said. “She always had a presence, she could always get your attention. She spoke with confidence, she had facts and data, and she was very prominent and vocal in her dedication and commitment to the cause.

“After hearing her speak, if you weren’t already a supporter of the Brady Bill and anti-gun violence, afterwards you certainly became convinced that this was something you needed to become part of.”

She was one of the key players in the passage of the 1993 gun-control legislation known as the Brady Bill, which required a waiting period and a background check on all handgun purchases through federally licensed dealers. The bill was signed by President Bill Clinton after Brady lobbied politicians extensively, many of whom were cowed by the influence of the NRA after it was first proposed in 1987.

“All of us at the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence are heartbroken over the passing of Sarah Brady,” Brady Campaign and Center President Dan Gross said in a statement. “Together with her husband Jim ‘Bear’ Brady, Sarah was the heart and soul of this organization and the successful movement it has become today.

“In the history of our nation, there are few people, if any, who are directly responsible for saving as many lives as Sarah and Jim. There are countless people walking around today who would not be were it not for Sarah Brady’s remarkable resilience, compassion and – what she always said she enjoyed the most – her hard work in the trenches with this organization, which she continued right up to the very end.”

The Brady Campaign, of which Sarah Brady was chairperson until her death, estimates that the Brady Bill has prevented the sale of 2.4 million firearms to criminals and other dangerous people. Gross described the legislation in his statement as “the most significant achievement in the history of the gun violence prevention movement.”

Brady’s husband died last year, and she spent her final years at the Goodwin House retirement community. She continued to be active in her final years, lobbying for stricter gun controls after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012. She also spoke at city council’s recent public hearing on the expansion of a facility for Alzheimer’s care at the Woodbine Nursing Home.

Euille said she will be missed not just as an advocate, but also as an educator of young people.

“She was dedicated and committed to not only her cause got anti-gun violence, but her cause for educating young people,” he said. “As a longtime resident of the city, she’ll be missed, and our prayers and condolences are extended to her family and friends.”

She is survived by her son, James Scott Brady; brother Bill Kemp; and stepdaughter Melissa Brady.