Jim Brady's death this week at age 73 conjures up memories of his 1994 visit to Fort Wayne. The co-founder of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and architect of the Brady Bill was in town to speak at The Journal Gazette's Citizen of the Year and Golden Pen recognition event.
At that time, accessibility for people with disabilities was not so readily addressed and Brady, a wheelchair user, needed considerable help to navigate the city and his hotel. Thankfully, the Lutheran Rehabilitation Hospital provided transportation and staff assistance.
Brady's speech followed a dinner and recognition of the late Jane and Tom Dustin as The Journal Gazette's Citizens of the Year. In earlier years, the White House staffer had been no friend to environmentalists. That night he was ... at least to those two!
His cadence was halting but the speech was strong and powerful, with snippets of Brady's famous sense of humor. He took questions from the guests and struggled in silence for long periods, gathering his thoughts before he answered. But each response was clear and impassioned.
Obviously, Brady's speech focused on the need for improved gun control. Though he had served as Ronald Reagan's former press secretary and was a lifelong Republican, his message was not embraced by his party. (But it was by Reagan.)
He continued his work where he felt he could cause change, however, and he came to Fort Wayne to support a newspaper that supported sensible gun control proposals. The year before his appearance, after six years of lobbying, the bill mandating federal background checks for handgun purchases had been passed. However, he wasn't satisfied with that victory and felt much more legislation was required.
That night championed citizen advocacy. It was a celebration of the people who write letters to the editor. It recognized the Dustins' incredible work on behalf of the environment. And it demonstrated that Jim Brady, though he had been debilitated by a head injury, partial paralysis and ongoing rehabilitation needs, had stayed committed to gun control advocacy since the 1981 assassination attempt.
The contentious gun debate continues. Brady didn't make the progress he wanted with waiting periods, gun shows or assault weapons. Lots of innocent children and adults have died and others, like Jim, have been permanently disabled.
However, his voice still resonates with those who were with him at the Fort Wayne event 20 years ago.
Julie Inskeep is president and publisher of The Journal Gazette.