CNAS Tribute to Shawn

A portrait of Shawn Brimley for CNAS

Below is the speech I gave on Thursday, June 21st in honor of Shawn.  The CNAS Next Gen Program will now be called the Shawn Brimley Next Generation National Security Leaders Program.


Thank you all for having me here, and congratulations to the Next Gen Class of 2018.

I am Marjorie Brimley, Shawn Brimley’s wife.  I’ve been invited here to tell you a little bit more about Shawn.

Shawn and I met teaching in Japan, and he proposed a year later on the beach with a ring made out of a coconut shell.  We moved to Washington with very little except each other and a belief that somehow we could make it in this political town.  But my remarks today are not about all of the things that Shawn did professionally – it’s about who he was as a man.

In order to do this, I watched – for the first time – the videos Shawn made for our kids in the last few days of his life.  As you may imagine, it was difficult to do.  But it was also incredible, because under his scruffy beard and newly thin face, he was still Shawn.  In the videos, he joked about how the kids would probably live to see technology that would allow them to communicate with spirits, and let me tell you, he made a point to say that he definitely looked forward to that day.

What the videos reminded me of were some of the best parts of Shawn.  He was humble and didn’t take himself too seriously.  He enjoyed life.  He loved his family.

In fact, I think Shawn’s humility was the first thing that drew me to him – I’d never met anyone quite like him.  When Shawn first started working for Michele Flournoy, we’d go to parties where everyone wanted to talk to him about his job, and he’d constantly say, “you should hear about my wife’s job teaching high school.  She has the best stories.”  But it wasn’t just me he treated as an equal.  Every night around our dinner table, he’d talk about his work life at CNAS.  He cared just as much about a new intern as he did about those at the top.  Because he never emphasized it, I never quite knew which people were the ones that had high ranking jobs, either at CNAS or in any administration.  But I always knew who he thought worked hard and was generous and thoughtful, because he admired those qualities in others.

We have a small group of friends (who are not connected to the National Security field) and we hung out with them most weekends.  After his funeral, I had a number of them say to me, “I had no idea that Shawn did such incredible stuff!”  What they did remember about Shawn was his great taste in music, his love of parties and children, and his ability to coax everyone – including those of us with little kids – to stay just a few minutes longer at every gathering, listening to a great song or re-living a hilarious story.  He didn’t care if you were a stay-at-home mom or the Undersecretary of Defense.  He just loved having people around him who simply enjoyed life.

More than anything, Shawn knew what he had.  He knew he was lucky to have a great job at a place where he could take risks and challenge people.  He knew he was lucky to have a wonderful community of friends.  And he knew that the greatest piece of luck he had was his family – me, and our 3 kids, Claire, Austin and Tommy.

Being with Shawn made me feel grateful too.  Of course, I am like anyone else, and sometimes I’d be frustrated after a long day at work or overtired from my kids waking up at night.  In those moments, Shawn would pull me into a hug and make me stop whatever it was I was doing.  He would say to me, “look at this, Marjorie!  Who else has a better life?  We won.  This is it.”

For a million reasons, Shawn made me a better person.  But if I had to pick one, I think my favorite quality would be how grateful he was for the life he had.

The Next Generation National Security Leaders Program brings together a young, brilliant group of bipartisan individuals.  I know that Shawn would be so touched that a program like this was named after him.  I certainly am.

Thank you for honoring him.

13 Replies to “CNAS Tribute to Shawn”

  1. Beautiful tribute. ❤

  2. Kristin McNally says: Reply

    Marjorie, YOU are the reason MOM flipped upside down spells WOW! You seriously rock, Momma 🎸. We were at Silver Diner recently and played Don’t Stop Believin’ on the table jukebox in honor of your amazing family 😘. ❤️ & hugs always!!

    1. Oh mama. Thanks so much. Love that you played Don’t Stop Believin’!

  3. A perfect tribute for a humble, wonderful man. Big huge hugs to you, Marjorie. Xoxo

    1. Thank you, my dear friend.

  4. Sheryll Brimley says: Reply

    That took my breath away! And brought MORE tears!! You are just amazing! Humility & gratitude …two important values that we tried to teach our children. And, we were successful.
    btw, I think you should run for your next president !

    1. Yes – he had such humility and gratitude….so rare. xo

  5. Marjorie, I just listened to your tribute to Shawn. What an amazing job you did! I am in awe that you were so composed. I know I couldn’t have pulled that off and I am so proud that you could. Bravo, darling.

    1. Thank you so much! xo

  6. Marjorie, I just listened to your tribute to Shawn. What an amazing job you did! I am in awe that you were so composed. I know I couldn’t have pulled that off and I am so proud that you could. Bravo, darling.
    Aunt Nancy

  7. What a great tribute. Your composure & poise amaze me! And so special Austin accompanied you for this special day. Hugs!!

    1. I know. It was so wonderful to have Austin there – it was a last minute thing (he didn’t want to go to baseball camp) and I hadn’t really planned on bringing the kids, but it turned out great. Austin ate up all the attention!

  8. […] Shawn at the Department of Defense and the White House, people who knew him professionally as a rational and serious analyst. But we didn’t talk about that part of him at all. Instead, we talked about the guy who was […]

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