Former Journalist and Private Investigator Brooke Shearer Dies at 58

Brooke Shearer directed the White House Fellows program and served in the Interior Department.
Brooke Shearer directed the White House Fellows program and served in the Interior Department. (Family Photo)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Brooke Shearer, 58, a former journalist and private investigator whose varied career also included assignments in government and nonprofit work and who rose to social prominence in Washington during the presidency of her friend Bill Clinton, died May 19 at her home in the District. She had cancer.

Ms. Shearer was the daughter of author Lloyd Shearer, who wrote Parade magazine's "Walter Scott's Personality Parade" feature that answered readers' questions about movie stars, politics and other current events. She was married to Strobe Talbott, a former Time magazine editor who served as the second-ranking official at the State Department in the Clinton White House and now heads the Brookings Institution research and policy center.

She and her husband's lives and careers were intertwined with future president Bill Clinton's. Talbott and Clinton had roomed together as Rhodes scholars at Oxford University in the early 1970s, and Ms. Shearer became close with Clinton's wife, Hillary, now the secretary of state.

Ms. Shearer accompanied Hillary Clinton as a personal aide during the 1992 presidential campaign and, after the election, became director of the White House Fellows program, which allows promising applicants to gain Washington experience in the executive branch. In Clinton's second term as president, Ms. Shearer served in the Interior Department, helping developing countries establish national park systems.

In 2001, she and her husband moved to New Haven, Conn., where they worked at programs affiliated with Yale University. Ms. Shearer was founding director of the Yale World Fellows program, which aimed to bring young leaders from around the world to study at Yale for a semester or so. Ms. Shearer and her husband returned to Washington the next year when Talbott was appointed president of the Brookings Institution.

Subsequently, Ms. Shearer was on the board of the International Center for Research on Women, a nongovernmental organization focusing on women's health and empowerment, and was extensively involved in fundraising for the National Archives and groups supporting reconstruction work in Afghanistan and bringing HIV/AIDS education and medicine to women in developing countries.

Brooke Lloyd Shearer was born July 28, 1950, in Los Angeles, where her family's home was once described by The Washington Post as "a kind of salon for political types and West Los Angeles' tennis-playing intelligentsia."

In 1971, she graduated from Stanford University and married Talbott, who had been a friend of her older brother Derek's at Yale. Talbott survives, along with their two sons, Devin Talbott of Bethesda and Adrian Talbott of Washington; her mother, Marva P. Shearer of Los Angeles; two brothers, Cody Shearer of Washington and Derek Shearer, a former Commerce Department official and U.S. ambassador to Finland, of Pacific Palisades, Calif.; and a granddaughter.

Early in her career, Ms. Shearer accompanied her husband on his Time assignments in Eastern Europe and reported from the same region for the Sunday Times of London and the Christian Science Monitor. When they moved to Washington in 1974, she helped Sylvia Porter research and write her nationally syndicated daily financial advice column. She also periodically contributed to Parade under the byline Connecticut Walker.

In the 1980s, Ms. Shearer was spokeswoman for the Credit Union National Association, a Washington-based trade group, and a private investigator for the Investigative Group International, a company focusing on political, corporate and celebrity clients and that was started by longtime Washington operative Terry Lenzner.

While described as disarming and irreverent, Ms. Shearer was largely a private figure but was a presence at soirees hosted by official Washington and often accompanied the Clintons to dinners around town. She was known for bringing her beloved dogs -- many of them border collies -- uninvited to parties.

While overseeing the White House fellows program in 1993, she told the Washington Times she had no desire for public office.

"Public life is pretty arduous," she said. "I have a great deal of admiration for people who do it. I consider myself a custodian of a wonderful government program which I'll try to take care of for a little while and then pass on, I hope, in better shape than I found it."

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