Shawn Brimley's family at the CNAS portrait dedication in DC

Bill Brimley’s Speech at CNAS in Honor of His Son, Shawn

Below is a transcript of the speech Bill Brimley, Shawn’s father, gave to CNAS on October 29, 2018.

Thank-you Richard, Michele and Kurt, and thank-you everyone for being here this evening to celebrate and honor the life and accomplishments of our son Shawn.

Ever since Shawn passed away in January, many people have asked Shawn’s mother Sheryll and I – how he did it. How did he accomplish so many things – how did he achieve so much success, at such a young age?

You all know more about Shawn and his career in Washington than we do. His work in the pentagon, the White House, and here at CNAS.

The thing is . . . we didn’t know many details of this. We didn’t fully understand the scope of Shawn’s achievements, his humbleness, nor did we realize the impact he had on so many – until he was no longer with us.

So – what we would like to quickly share with you is some insight about Shawn you don’t know. Him – growing up, and how his personality and many of his life interests were shaped.

Shawn, along with his sisters, was enrolled in swimming activities from water baby through life guard certification. They were all in T-ball, skating, soccer, baseball and summer camps. Early in life they were all enrolled in a private Christian school, and continued in youth groups as teen-agers. Shawn (being a Canadian boy) also had to play hockey, and he also learned to play a guitar. Sheryll and I were hard pressed to keep track of which activity our children were at every day!

Our young family travelled across major parts of Canada and the United States, canoe camping, and winter vacationing – cross country skiing and skating.

Shawn was in Cubs and Boy Scouts and throughout his life loved – wilderness camping and hiking. He was also in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets in high school. He achieved the highest rank of Warrant Officer in Air Cadets. We remember him going off to cadet training each summer – (Boot Camp, Wilderness Survival, and Senior Leadership training). We grew up alongside our children as well – by participating as parent leaders and instructors, and supporting these organizations.

We were told by someone, that this was all good insurance -keeping our kids busy, and not giving them time to get into any trouble! This proved to be true!

After Shawn told us that he wanted to be a “strategic analyst”, he buckled down the last two years in high school and worked hard to be accepted with honours marks into Queen’s University in Kingston. There he majored in History. He was also heavily involved in the Queen’s student newspaper, and became a featured disc jockey in the student pub. Summers there – as a Guard at Old Fort Henry, he marched and fired muskets for the enjoyment of tourists. He had also enlisted in the Canadian Army reserve, was promoted to lieutenant and even trained in urban warfare with US troops in Georgia.

The summer before his last year at Queen’s he decided to start his own franchise business – Student Works Painters. One incident sticks out. His friend ruined a customer’s beautiful wood front door by sanding across the wood grain. Shawn showed great ingenuity, and thinking outside the box – by convincing the customer that I was his door refinishing specialist. Fortunately, Shawn and I were able to properly re-finish the door. The customer never knew I was Shawn’s dad. After that I thought Shawn would never be involved in starting a business again! Looking at you all here: – obviously I was wrong!

Shawn met Marjorie in Japan after he graduated from Queen’s. There, they were both teaching English, and he was also enrolled in the American Military University where he obtained a Master’s degree. They married and you all know the rest of their wonderful lives together, and about the three beautiful grandchildren they have given us – Claire, Austin and Tommy.

Obviously, what he was doing here at CNAS was important – that’s very evident. But he clearly never thought of these things as his achievements alone.

To illustrate this: Shawn asked us to attend what he called a “little event” at the pentagon in 2012, and we ended up being surprised and amazed that he was presented the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service!
During his acceptance speech, he told all present including his work associates at the pentagon, that – although he was getting this medal, he could not have done this without all of them being a team in developing new strategies, and policies. He also said that although he had left, they were still there doing great work that they should be proud of.

Perhaps that’s the key to his success. The fact that he never considered achievements as his alone, and the thought never crossed his mind to brag or boast about them to his family or friends. Maybe the true measure of a man is not just what he accomplishes, but that he accomplishes these things quietly.

True success – is in fact what Shawn managed to achieve –
to not only go about the tasks of everyday life,
to not only work effectively with those around him,
to not only positively impact his country,
– But to do it without many words about it to the rest of us.

It simply wasn’t just about him. He was a happy guy who enjoyed having fun in all aspects of his life, especially with his family, friends and associates.

So to those of you who know Shawn – to those of you who count him as a friend, colleague, role model, mentor, and to those of you continuing to do great work for your families, your communities, and your country:

The work that Shawn did, and what you’re doing is of great importance. Many people might never hear about the details of your efforts. Don’t let that ever discourage you.

For the true successes –
are not those achievements that are loud and brash, noisy and boastful.
The achievements of true importance, the ones that make a lasting impact . . . can be made in quiet everyday moments …by humble, stoic … heroes.