More than three decades after an assassin's bullet nearly ended his life, former White House press secretary James Brady was remembered Friday as a champion for gun safety who challenged his adversaries with grace, humor and unyielding determination. Vice President Joe Biden praised him as a rare example of turning tragedy into action.
Fellow press secretaries and veteran journalists joined Biden at the Newseum a few blocks from the White House for the memorial honoring President Ronald Reagan's one-time spokesman, who died in August at 73. Partially paralyzed and mostly confined to a wheelchair after the 1981 attempt on Reagan's life, Brady became a prominent advocate for stricter gun laws.
"The bullet that the assassin left him robbed him of so many of his faculties,'' Biden said. "But it didn't rob him of his voice.''
Mike McCurry, who served as press secretary to then-President Bill Clinton, took the podium to read a letter from Clinton crediting Brady with teaching him "the true meaning of perseverance.''
Shot in the head outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981, Brady never regained full health. The bullet caused brain damage, partial paralysis, short-term memory impairment, slurred speech and constant pain.
The White House briefing room, where Brady once tussled with reporters, is now named in his honor. So is a federal law requiring background checks for handgun buyers.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called Brady and his wife, Sarah, "the greatest champions that we have ever seen for the safer nation that we all want.''
``I believe that Jim and Sarah Brady have saved more lives than almost any citizens in our nation's history, and that's not hyperbole,'' he said, adding that Brady accomplished that feat absent power or wealth.
As a gun control advocate, Biden said, Brady was effective because he never questioned people's motives, but only their judgement - leaving opponents plenty of room to come around.
"Jim never compromised. Jim was never, ever, ever defeated,'' Biden said. "He didn't just persevere - He triumphed.''
Biden led the Obama administration's push to tighten gun laws last year after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut. But the campaign collapsed in the Senate, and the White House has turned its focus to other issues amid few signs Congress will change its mind.
Nevertheless, Biden assured mourners and Brady's family that, eventually, lawmakers will see the light and Americans will be better protected.
"I pray to God it's sooner than later,'' Biden said.