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WASHINGTON – My debt to Jim Brady is personal.

Brady was the press secretary on the campaign bus where I first met my husband-to-be. He was the ebullient spokesman for a candidate who was anything but. Former Texas governor John Connally was making his last stand in the South Carolina primary in 1980, at a point it was clear the $11 million he had raised and spent wasn't going to get him the Republican presidential nomination.

I was covering my first national campaign, and Newsday had sent me to write Connally's political obit. Similarly, The (Baltimore) Sun had sent its experienced correspondent, Carl Leubsdorf, who was friendly and helpful to a newcomer and, well ... it's 32 years of marriage and two children later.

Jim Brady loved that story and took some credit for the outcome. He delighted in the good fortune of others. He was the kind of guy who looked out for the people around him – his candidate, other staffers, the reporters on the beat. This is both more difficult and less common than you might think.

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It meant that in the early, chaotic days of the Reagan White House, reporters were inclined to cut Brady some slack when the briefings would start an hour or two or three past their advertised time or when he wasn't able to answer questions.

It meant there was shock and grief when we learned he had been shot in the head during the assassination attempt on President Reagan. My bureau chief, Tony Marro, dispatched me to the White House briefing room as soon as news of the shooting came over the wire. We reporters there were bereft when TV networks reported Brady had died and relieved when we learned those reports were erroneous.

Brady was irrepressible. In 1980, after the Connally campaign folded, he joined the Reagan team. Even there, he had his ups and downs. When the candidate made the scientifically questionable assertion that trees were a cause of air pollution, Brady pointed to trees outside the campaign plane window and shouted, "Killer trees! Killer trees!"

That was enough to get him kicked off the campaign plane for a while, but he came back.

After the election, the early word was that Nancy Reagan thought Brady was too disheveled to serve as the chief White House spokesman, though he proved his worth in the job once the administration got underway. After he was shot, Nancy Reagan was among those who watched out for him and insisted that he retain his title through the rest of the administration, although he was never able to return to the job.

Brady and his wife, Sarah, became ardent advocates of gun control. Although he spoke with some difficulty, he loved to hear from reporters and remember old times. Nearly every year, the Bradys would attend the Gridiron Dinner, an annual white-tie affair where journalists deliver satiric songs about politicians.

At one of those dinners, I sat down beside him and told him, not for the first time, how he had played a role in my life. He laughed and gave a thumbs-up.

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