WASHINGTON-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, an aggressive promoter of telecommunications abroad and a strong advocate of minority advancement in high technology, was among the 35 passengers killed last week in a plane crash off the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik.
Brown was escorting American business executives in search of infrastructure contracts in the war-torn region of former Yugoslavia.
President Clinton, who has named Commerce Undersecretary for Technology Mary Good acting Commerce head, called Brown “one of the best advisers and ablest people I ever knew.”
Brown, 54, is survived by his wife Alma and two grown children, Michael and Tracey.
Two names mentioned as possible successors to Brown are Stuart Eizenstat, a former Carter administration aide who recently was confirmed by the Senate as Commerce undersecretary for international trade, and Thomas “Mack” McLarty, an adviser and long-time friend of Clinton who headed an energy concern in Arkansas before coming to Washington. The White House said it was not even thinking about a replacement.
The tragedy shocked official Washington and cast a pall over the nation’s capital last week.
“It’s truly a tragic day for AT&T and for the nation,” said Robert Allen, chairman of AT&T Corp.
Walter Murphy, 52, only recently named senior vice president of AT&T Submarine Systems, was travelling with Brown to assess the reconstruction of the battered telecommunications infrastructure in Bosnia.
“He was America’s finest ambassador in promoting trade and furthering U.S. business interests around the world,” said Richard McCormick, chairman of U S West, commenting on Brown.
House telecommunications subcommittee member Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said “There could not have been a better role model for the African American community. History will undoubtedly record that Ron Brown was the greatest Commerce Secretary this nation ever produced.”
Carol Hamilton, 36, press secretary for Commerce, was among the staff who accompanied Brown on the fatal flight.
Brown was the first African American to head Commerce and to chair the Democratic National Committee, playing key roles in revitalizing the party and in enabling Clinton to win the presidential election in 1992.
Republicans, who took control of the House and Senate after the 1994 midterm election, were highly critical of Brown’s past financial dealings-which were under investigation-and of his agency. Efforts to dismantle Commerce by Republicans are not expected to be affected by Brown’s death.
“I hope all Americans today will be grateful for what all the people who were on that plane did … who did it not out of a sense of their own profit, but out of a sense of what they could do to help America bring peace.”