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Moment Turned on a Memory
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called him "very selfless," and Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) called Brown "among the finest people I've met in public office," adding, "The time he's spending with his family to pay tribute to his mom, and his effort to get back to cast a vote -- both are consistent with his character."
Brown's mother was found to have leukemia in mid-December but decided to spend her final weeks at home in the small central-Ohio city of Mansfield, halfway between Cleveland and Columbus, in the same house where she raised three sons.
For days at a time, Brown, 56, stayed at his mother's side, sometimes sleeping on a hospital cot. Once his mother returned home, neighbors brought them casseroles and cornbread. Brown used his BlackBerry and laptop to keep in touch with aides and monitor the stimulus bill's progress. When he was needed for critical meetings or votes, Brown flew to Washington in the morning and returned to Ohio that night. His wife joked that the couple spent so much time looking up flights that they memorized Continental Airlines' schedule for the Cleveland-to-Reagan National Airport route.
"I have only one mother, and my mother is dying, and I'm going to be with my mother," Brown told Reid.
"We'll try to make this work," Reid replied.
And Senate leaders did.
"Despite all of the battles, the Senate is a family," said Casey, one of Brown's closest friends in the Senate. "This is one of those instances where the family in the Senate grieves when someone loses a loved one and also tries as best as they can to support a colleague."
Brown and his mother were very close, and she was an energetic presence in his political campaigns. During his 2006 run for Senate, she delighted crowds by marching in parades, even after Democratic officials begged her to ride because of her age.
Emily Brown was a political force in her own right, working during World War II for the Foreign Economic Administration in Washington and later for several Ohio nonprofits. At the local YWCA, Brown led an interracial dialogue for teenagers during the tumultuous 1960s.
While ailing, she shared moments both tender and humorous with her family.
But grief sneaked up on the senator.
"There are definitely times when he cries, and he's allowed to," said Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "One of the hardest things I'd see in Sherrod is the helplessness he'd feel, that his mother would never get better, so then he'd shift to: 'How do I get my mother the kind of death she wants.' "
Then his mother would say, "Sherrod, I'm not afraid, and I don't want you to be afraid," Schultz recalled.
On Feb. 2, when Brown knew the end was near, Schultz said, he hovered close to his mother and gently said, "It's over, Mom. I promise. It's almost over."
She opened her eyes and looked at him. And within a few minutes, she was gone.
Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.