08/09/2014 02:27 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2014

Jim Brady, My Hero

I first met Jim Brady when he was recruited to be Press Secretary to Gov. John B. Connally in Connally's ill-fated bid for the White House in 1980. During the early campaign committee's senior meetings, I was initially struck by Jim's irreverence -- a rare quality for the key campaign aides to the much revered former three-term Governor of Texas. While most aides were easily intimidated by the silver-haired presidential candidate from central casting, the Illinois born Brady was often the only Connally campaign official who had the temerity to say "Governor, that's a bad idea." While Jim frequently admonished his boss that some hair-brain idea was "just plain stupid," he was usually out voted, Nonetheless, Jim Brady did his professional best for candidate Connally through the South Carolina GOP Presidential primary in March 1980 where Connally lost miserably and wisely withdrew from the Campaign.

Sometime later in 1980, Jim Brady was named Press Secretary for Presidential candidate and former California Governor Ronald Reagan. It was a brilliant selection because Jim Brady's reputation for integrity and wit would prove to be welcome contributions to the Reagan campaign. Only once was there a bump in the road for Jim when he put his wit to questionable use during a controversial environmental policy period towards the end of the campaign; as the Reagan for President press plane landed near a forest in Louisiana, Jim loudly pointed to "the killer trees." Apparently candidate Reagan's wife Nancy and some of the ranking Reagan campaign committee officials were not amused so Jim was in hot water for a brief spell. But wisely, after his overwhelming victory, President-elect Reagan named Jim his official press spokesman. For Jim Brady, it was the highest professional honor, and one he would carry out with distinction until March 30, 1981 when he and "his Boss" were nearly assassinated in front of the Washington Hilton Hotel.

When the media stories started to fill the airwaves that grim afternoon, I called Governor Connally to commiserate; and while we were talking, one of the networks incorrectly announced that Jim had been mortally wounded. Soon the press correctly reported that the President and Jim were both in surgery; and that's when the brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Art Kobrine performed his miraculous work on Jim's shattered brain. Once he survived the skillful surgery that Art Kobrine performed, it would take years of hard work on Jim and Sarah Brady's part to restore his damaged brain; but with Dr. Kobrine's guidance and Sarah's determined coaching, Jim would make remarkable progress with daily painful therapy sessions.

And then there came a point in his protracted therapy that "the Bear" (as Sarah fondly called her husband), revolted! No more sessions with those women-in-white; he was through with these therapists who were so vital to Jim's continued progress.

And that's when I had an idea. I asked Sarah, "Why don't I get my trainer Gary Figler from the Metropolitan Club's Athletic Department to come up to my office when Gary's workday ends at 3:30 pm to workout with Jim in my large conference room?" Sarah answered, "Why not?" and for the next decade, twice a week, Jim and Gary met. No white dressed therapists -- just the often protesting but macho Bear Brady working-out with Gary, the no-nonsense muscle-bound Met Club trainer.

It was a match made in heaven: Jim instantly responded to Gary's stubborn urgings, and before long, Jim was able, with Gary's help and encouragement, to stand up, then take a few steps and before long, walk the length of the long conference room. The only problem occurred early in the Brady-Figlar workouts; Gary gave Jim the ok to verbally express his frustration anytime he was in pain - thus there were frequent Brady issued F Bombs! Sometimes, when Jim was particularly pained, his resulting Brady F bomb would reverberate throughout my law firm and the adjacent USTTI offices. But not to worry -- Jim Brady was doing the impossible -- walking with minimal assistance.

As our families' friendship grew close over almost two decades, I got to know Jim well -- so well in fact, that I rightfully concluded that Jim Brady was and is the bravest person I know.

Being born a Mensa, Jim knew early in life that he was smart, really smart. And he was good at what he did, being named President Reagan's Press Secretary was proof of Jim's professional prowess. But then to be at the top of your game, and have some nut shoot a bullet through your brain, and literally to have to start all over to say and do the simplest things -- that would be an impossible hurdle for most of us. But not Jim Brady; a man who knew he was diminished but still determined, as was Sarah, to live a full life. No self-pity, not vengeance, no bitterness, just pushing forward in every new day.

One night at our favorite Italian restaurant in Adams Morgan, I was feeling sorry for myself about some injustice, and Jim looked across at me and said: "Miguel, shit happens and it's not about what happens that counts, it's how you react that matters." I went home that night embarrassed that my friend Jim Brady would have to give me a pep talk after all this brave and forgiving man dealt with everyday of his life.

On a more positive occasion, the Gardner and Brady families were celebrating Thanksgiving together in Bermuda. On the Friday night, after our Thanksgiving feast at our rented beachfront house, we decided to have dinner at the Mid Ocean Club in Tuckerstown. Once seated in the Club's dining room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, we ordered drinks with Jim getting his all-time favorite Bermuda drink, a Dark and Stormy. One round led to two and since our food service was slow, we even got to three rounds of these popular but powerful drinks.

No sooner had the third round been consumed when the Bear firmly exclaimed: "Mickey, get me out of here, I need some air!" I immediately stood up and steered Jim's wheelchair to the double doors that led to the Mid Ocean Club's tiny elevator. I pushed the ample Bear Brady front ways into the tiny elevator; to my surprise I could only get Jim two-thirds in. "No problem," I thought. "I'll back in, pulling Jim's wheelchair side-ways so that the elevator door could close."

I was wrong.

When I backed him in and turned the wheelchair side-ways, Jim's legs blocked the elevator door from closing. When I tried to exit the elevator, I realized that the wheelchair's rubber handles had effectively locked me in; I couldn't move forward or sideways.

Panicked, I told Jim, "We're stuck." That's when the Bear roared out with an F bomb that echoed through all three floors of the staid Club. And every time the elevator door tried to close, Jim delivered another F bomb.

Finally, the maitre d' arrived; perplexed, he tried frantically to pull Jim's wheelchair back out into the third floor lobby. But he was not up to the job; it needed someone who had real strength. And that's when Jim Brady's devoted care provider, Mary Dickerson, came to the rescue. Admonishing Jim for using the F word, Mary reached into the cramped elevator and literally lifted the wheelchair with Jim in it, up and out.

Thank God for Mary Dickerson! We returned to the dining room as if nothing had happened and when we finished our dinner, the great Mary Dickerson steered the brave Jim Brady safely to the waiting van.