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Twenty Five Years Later: Commerce Continues to Honor the Lives of Secretary Ron Brown and Eleven Commerce Employees


Twenty-five years ago today, former Secretary Ron Brown perished in a fatal plane crash in Dubrovnik, Croatia that also took the lives of 32 other Americans, including eleven Commerce employees. Brown was leading a delegation of business executives to the former Yugoslavia to explore business opportunities that might help rebuild the war-torn region and sought to make a meaningful difference in the Balkans.

“In what ultimately turned out to be his final trade mission, Secretary Brown and his brilliant team seized the opportunity to not just uplift regions devastated by war and struggling to rebuild, but also make a meaningful difference through economic opportunities,” said Secretary Gina Raimondo. “That is why I am especially privileged, at this time in history, to lead a team of talented professionals who are committed to excellence and fulfilling Secretary Brown’s and this Department’s mission to ensure economic opportunities for all Americans.” 

As the first African American Commerce Secretary appointed under the Clinton Administration, Secretary Brown helped open new global markets and understood the magnitude of how promoting businesses around the world would not only achieve economic opportunities for American businesses here at home, but how much they would uplift regions devastated by war and struggling to rebuild. 

Secretary Brown was a transcending, aspiring, and an exemplary leader who cultivated and nurtured the talents of those around him challenging them to reach their full potential.  Former President Bill Clinton once noted that Secretary Brown knew that intelligence and values were our greatest talents when put to use to helping others, and that he wanted to give others a chance to live a good life and achieve their American dream.

After his death, President Clinton established the Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership and responsibility. This annual award is a U.S. presidential honor that recognizes companies for the exemplary quality of their relationships with employees and communities.

The Commerce Department also honors the life of Ron Brown each year by awarding the Ron Brown Excellence in Innovation Award to one exemplary Commerce employee who embodies the spirit and standards held up by Ron Brown. In addition, Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) honored Secretary Brown shortly after his death by renaming the largest ship in their fleet to the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown. Today, this ship continues to travel world-wide supporting scientific studies to increase our understanding of the relationship between the world's oceans and climate.   

Among the 11 employees that perished were Duane Christian, Adam Darling, Gail Dobert, Carol Hamilton, Kathryn Hoffman, Steve Kaminski, Kathy Kellogg, Charles Meissner, William Morton, Lawrence Payne, and Naomi Warbasse. These extraordinary public servants made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in service to their country, and today we honor them, the CEOs, government officials, flight crew, and the Croatians lost that day.

Leadership