Mobile Menu - OpenMobile Menu - Closed

Statement by Marta Macias Brown on the Passing of the Honorable George E. Brown, Jr.

Jul 16, 1999
Press Release

Last night, at approximately 6:45 p.m. (EDT), Congressman George E. Brown, Jr. succumbed to the effects of a powerful post-operative infection contracted following routine heart valve replacement surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital. While the initial infection was almost beaten down through aggressive antibiotics, and I was hopeful for a full recovery, in the last day or two a second infection took hold and doctors could not save him.

In his peaceful way, George was a tenacious fighter for the public good. Whether working to bring down the color barrier at UCLA in the 1930s, organizing L.A. city workers in the 1940s, reforming the California Democratic Party in the 1950s, carrying the struggle for civil rights and against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s or acting to establish more intelligent public policy to support science, clean up the environment and expand economic opportunity in the 1980s and 1990s, George believed that public service was a noble calling, that an individual could make a difference and that through persuasion and reason we could build a better society. Media advisors, sound-bites or polling were never used to set his positions. George consulted his knowledge of history, the details of the issue and his conscience in setting his own course. His approach to campaigning was to be as candid as possible and rely on the good judgment of the people. This style served him well through every election since 1962, despite repeated forecasts of his impending political demise. To the end of his life he remained enormously grateful to the electorate of the Inland Empire for their faith in him.

Though he was 79 years old, I can't help but feel that he was taken from us too soon, with too many tasks left before him. Speaking for his family and friends, I can only add that we will all miss him more than words can say, but we will remain inspired by his example for the rest of our lives.


[updated July 23, 1999]

Congressman George E. Brown, Jr. died on July 15, 1999 at the age of 79 following open heart surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital outside of Washington, DC. Brown, in his 18th term in the House, was the Ranking Democratic Member on the House Science Committee and a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee. He was the oldest current House member and the longest serving member of the House or Senate in the history of his home state of California.

Brown's death was attributed to a post-surgical infection following a heart valve replacement in May.

Brown was Chairman of the House Science Committee during the 102nd and 103rd Congresses and was probably best known in the Congress for his work on science and technology issues. He was a recognized leader in forming the institutional framework for science and technology in the Federal Government. In the mid-1960s, and again in the 1980s, he led an effort to restructure and strengthen the National Science Foundation, moving the agency into much more active roles in engineering, science education, and the development of advanced technologies. He developed legislation shaping the permanent science advisory mechanism in the Executive Office of the President, which was established in 1976 as the Office of Science and Technology Policy. As an energetic proponent of environmental preservation and of science and technology in the service of society, Brown championed the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Technology Assessment in the early 1970s.

Brown was known as an advocate of strategic planning and Congressional foresight. Ahead of the mainstream agenda, he recognized early on the environmental hazards of burning fossil fuels, the destructive effect of freons on the ozone layer, the importance of keeping space development under civilian control, and the necessity of monitoring global climate change. In due course, Congress adopted provisions in the Clean Air Act to protect the ozone layer from freons; passed a national climate monitoring program; funded research and development programs in hydrogen, hydrothermal, geothermal, photovoltaics, and wind energy; and developed a global change research program. Brown also helped direct the Congress toward initiatives for energy and resource conservation, sustainable agriculture, national information systems, advanced technology development, and the integration of technology in education. Throughout his career, Brown enthusiastically supported both manned and unmanned space exploration. He also developed plans to improve U.S. manufacturing capability, maintain the Landsat remote-sensing system, and restructure the national weapons laboratories in a peacetime economy. Late in his career, he was active in promoting international scientific cooperation, authoring legislation establishing joint research programs between U.S. researchers and their counterparts in Mexico and Russia.

Brown also had a long and rich history on non-science issues spanning many important events and eras of modern American political life. Raised during the Depression in Holtville, in the Imperial Valley agricultural area of California near the Mexican border, Brown was a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, where he helped create some of the first cooperative student housing. He also worked to break the racial color barrier by organizing the first integrated campus housing in the late 1930's. A pacifist, Brown had initially registered as a conscientious objector during World War II and worked in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Oregon. During this period, he also mobilized public opposition to the incarceration of Japanese-Americans, a cause which led senior city workers to try to block his later career path. Towards the end of the war, Brown decided to join the military, and served as a Second Lieutenant in the Army. After the war, and armed with his degree in Industrial Physics, Brown began his career in the civil service department of the City of Los Angeles, where he helped in organizing both city workers and veterans housing projects.

In 1954, Brown won his first election - as city councilman in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park, and became its mayor in 1955. He also became a full-time union business manager for the Engineers and Architects Association at the City of Los Angeles. In 1958, Brown was elected to the California State Assembly and served there until 1962. As an assemblyman, Brown authored legislation providing public employees with the right to bargain collectively and, foreshadowing his many environmental efforts, introduced the first bill in the nation to ban lead in gasoline. He successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962 in a district that included much of Latino East Los Angeles and its nearby suburbs.

In Congress, Brown fought for passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act (visitors to his office often remarked on the historic photo hanging on his wall showing Brown at the signing of that act by President Johnson - also in the room were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy and Rosa Parks). He was also one of the first outspoken critics of the Vietnam War. He voted against every defense spending bill during the Vietnam era. In 1970, Brown ran for the U.S. Senate in a closely contested Democratic primary won by Congressman John V. Tunney. Brown's "tell it like it is" style and anti-war stance attracted liberal activists up and down the state, including future U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who became a coordinator for Brown's campaign in the San Francisco Bay area. The current California Democratic party is replete with individuals who worked on Brown's 1970 Senate campaign.

Brown returned to the House in 1972 after the post-1970 census reapportionment created a new seat in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, close to his childhood home in Imperial Valley. Brown won 14 elections in the seat, which changed slightly after each census and became progressively more difficult for a Democrat to hold. Brown's elections in the 1980's and 1990's were among the most competitive in the nation. He squeaked by with a margin of 51-49% in 1994 and 50.5-49.5% in 1996, but prevailed by a 55-44% margin in 1998.

Throughout his life, Brown believed in the power of persuasion to settle differences. Following the 1972 election, Brown cultivated a polite and courtly style of argument, tinged with humorous self-deprecation. His reliance on reason, coupled with the respect he showed to his opponents, made him a very effective advocate and enabled him to form alliances with people of all political parties. He effectively bound his liberal values with a moderate's ability to find common ground and achieve consensus. This mature style kept Brown relevant and influential even after the Democrats lost their majority in the House in the 1994 election.

Brown prided himself on working hard for his District. One of his priorities was to bring new educational technology and inspiration for scientific learning to his local schools. Brown's reputation in science helped him bring NASA participation and support for local schools and business. Brown was also deeply involved in the conversion of the former Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino to civilian use and in helping to expand non-violent conflict resolution programs in schools, such as the PeaceLeaders program. To help the entire Inland Empire region of California, including his home area of Imperial Valley, Brown used his scientific background and associations with national leaders to draw attention to the environmental demise of the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, which is becoming too salty to support normal fish and bird life. Brown worked with the late Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Palm Springs), his widow, Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs), and others to fund a federal research project that will recommend solutions for the Salton Sea at the end of 1999.

Brown is survived by his wife Marta Macias Brown of San Bernardino, California. Both were previously married. Between them they have a total of six children (David and Dale Brown; Samuel, Armando and Miguel McQueen; and Howard Cincotta) and nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Brown is also survived by his sister Dr. Winifred Hall of Tucson, AZ.

106th Congress