Thank you, Mr. Speaker: I rise to honor an American patriot, a great and good man, and a hero of mine—Brent Scowcroft, who recently passed away.
From humble roots, Brent rose to become an Air Force general, the national security advisor to two Presidents, and a statesman whose counsel was sought by policymakers of all political stripes.
After his passing, Brent’s family and friends held a ceremony to celebrate his life.
They described Brent as an exceptional public servant who left an indelible stamp on U.S. foreign policy and on the National Security Council as an institution.
Brent’s contributions as national security advisor may be his primary legacy. But what I find most striking about the tributes to Brent are not what they say about him as a professional, but what they say about him as a person.
As Stephen Hadley put it: “There are few people in Washington who were as respected and revered as Brent Scowcroft. It was not just because of what he did. It was because of who he was. A true gentleman, much loved by all who had the privilege of working with him.”
Bob Gates noted that Brent was “tough as nails” on matters he cared about, but also “the most decent, kind and humble person I have ever known.”
These words resonate with me because I was one of the many people who had the honor to call Brent a role model and a friend. Brent served as a mentor to multiple generations of men and women who valued his wisdom and sought to emulate his example.
I met Brent between my sophomore and junior years at William & Mary, when I interned at The Scowcroft Group, a firm Brent founded after leaving government.
I was assigned to write an article—on the prospect of Russia selling missiles to Cyprus—and I gingerly asked Brent for guidance, in the way a young nobody approaches a distinguished somebody, expecting to be brushed off.
He couldn’t have been kinder, patiently walking me through the intricacies of the issue, telling me stories about his experience negotiating with the Soviets, and making me feel accepted and at ease.
It was these small acts of grace, repeated so many times, for so many people, when nobody else was watching, that made Brent so special.
Our first meeting was the start of a lifelong friendship that I cherished. Brent took more joy in the success of others than in his own success. He genuinely cared about me, my family, and my career.
I know how happy he was when his former intern became the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress. It made me proud to make him proud.
In fact, it was Brent Scowcroft who was partially responsible for my decision to enter public service.
As luck would have it, Brent gave the address at my college graduation in 2000. His message was about the importance of strong but humble American leadership around the world. It was also about the value of public service, especially government service.
Brent’s words stirred something in me. I was a refugee from Vietnam whose family’s life had been saved by America. Brent’s speech made me realize that public service might be the best way for me to chisel away at the debt of gratitude I owe this country.
I recalled that speech after 9/11, when I decided to leave my job in the private sector, attend graduate school, and go work at the Department of Defense. I also remembered that speech a decade later, when I made what some might call a foolhardy decision to run for Congress.
After Brent’s passing, I tracked down a copy of the speech. It wasn’t easy because Brent wrote things himself and then tended to throw them away, which is consistent with his unpretentious character.
Reading it made me emotional, because it made me miss Brent. And it still inspires me all these years later.
In the speech, Brent asked me and my young classmates—our futures before us—to reflect on what we would like our epitaph to say after we drew our last breath.
Brent then offered this gentle advice:
I would hope that many of you would consider turning to public service. There is something enormously fulfilling about being engaged in something bigger than you yourself. It imparts a satisfying sense of purpose which, in my experience, is not attained in any other way. And there is a desperate need in this country for good people to man our government structures. I know it is getting more and more difficult to be a public servant. We have driven many of our best people away. But I ask you to consider public service, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, rewarding, and oh-so-necessary. How well the wonderful things this great nation stands for will be preserved and projected will depend on the quality of people whose hands are on the helm of state.
This nation was blessed to have Brent’s steady hands on the helm of state.
Ginny Mulberger, one of Brent’s closest friends and colleagues, said the word that best described Brent was “devotion.”
He was devoted to his country, his family, and his friends. His legacy will be carried forward by the men and women he taught, mentored, and inspired to pursue public service.
What better epitaph could there be? Rest in peace, General.