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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's Remarks at Ron Brown Recognition Ceremony and Reception

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Please join in welcoming the Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke.

[applause]

Well thank you very much Rick and I want to welcome everyone to the beautiful lobby of the U.S. Department of Commerce. We had a really great ceremony outside, and I’m just so proud that everyone could join us on this great festive occasion, this very, very important occasion. And for all of you to join us inside, as well.

Once again, we are joined by Ron’s wife Alma, his children Michael and Tracy, and their children.  

I’m really deeply honored to speak a little bit about Ron Brown’s impact here at the Department of Commerce and I’d like to try to capture the sentiment of all the people here who worked with him, who had the privilege and the honor of working for Ron Brown.  

But before I begin I would like to share a letter from Bill Daley, President Obama’s chief of staff who is also a former Secretary of Commerce:

“I am sorry that I can’t join the celebration today, but I wanted to send congratulations and best wishes to Alma, Michael, Tracy and all of you gathered in memory of Ron.

Ron was a trailblazer, a tireless advocate and a committed public servant. I was proud to call him my friend. Ron’s mark on the Department of Commerce and this country will endure for generations and the dedication of Ron Brown Way today is a well-deserved memorial to his life and to our nation.”

You know, if we were to open the microphone to all who worked with and knew Ron, I think we'd have to be here for entire weekend.

But let me just say that when Ron Brown first arrived at the Commerce Department in 1993, he already had a well-deserved and well-earned reputation as a trailblazer and a person who made a difference.

Ron grew up in the United States at time when there were many barriers to the advancement of African Americans.  Ron would spend the rest of his life breaking through those barriers.

He was the first African-American to integrate a fraternity at Middlebury College and to become a partner at the very prestigious law firm, Patton Boggs.

He was the first African-American to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee and to lead the Department of Commerce.

Ron Brown was a beloved figure in this building.  

He was warm and engaging, and he was a fierce defender of the employees and the organizations who do such a great job every single day at the Commerce Department.

Ron’s tenure at Commerce was marked by a procession of impressive achievements.

Working with NOAA, he helped rebuild depleted fisheries and he helped modernize the National Weather Service.

Working with NTIA, he led the Clinton administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force, helping to lay the groundwork for the spread of the Internet.  

Abroad, Ron Brown was a tireless advocate for American companies and American workers.  He led trade missions to five different continents that led to more than $80 billion in business for US companies.

Ron was a strong believer in the importance of trade to America's economic and national security.  He championed and actually coined the concept “commercial diplomacy” – the idea that expanding America's trade ties with foreign countries could be just as impactful as expanding our military or our political ties. Soo when people talk of commercial diplomacy, they remember Ron Brown.

After the Cold War ended, countries in Europe, Asia and South America began opening a door to the world.

Ron Brown was one of the first people to walk through these doors. And he was usually followed by a couple dozen American business leaders selling their great goods and services that could help these countries improve the quality of life for their own peoples, while at the same time providing jobs for people back home in America.

It was, of course, on one of these missions to Croatia where we lost Ron Brown and so many other valued members of the Commerce Department, the business community, the military; and other colleagues from throughout the government.

We honor the service of these people who perished trying to bring economic opportunity and hope to a war-torn region that for too long had seen neither.

For all the different work that Ron Brown did, he himself defined the purpose of the Commerce Department very simply.  He said:

“Our mission is to ensure economic opportunity for every American.”

And he understood that expanding America’s trade all around the world was one of the best ways to provide that opportunity.

Fifteen years after Ron Brown left the Commerce Department, his work endures through the hundreds of dedicated employees here at the Commerce Department. Employees who knew him and still believe in his mission for this agency.

Ron once said that he thought being Commerce Secretary was “the best job in Washington, D.C.” and he came to work every day with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose that inspired everyone he came across.

He is greatly missed here, as are the valued Commerce employees we lost on that April day in 1996.  

And I am proud we’ve all gathered today to ensure that his and their memory endures forever.

Thank you, very much.