Brown

I am the Kindle publisher of the following memoir by Rudd Brown, a granddaughter of William Jennings Bryan and family friend of the Myers family since the 1950s.




Political Years - Notes on Rudd Brown and Helen Myers

It has been my privilege to be the Kindle publisher of Rudd Brown’s memoir about her life with her mother Ruth Bryan Owen—An Intimate Portrait?

This came about for the simple reason that the Brown and Myers families have been friends since the 1950s. My late mother Helen Myers managed Rudd’s 1958 campaign for Congress, a close race lost in the recount. In the 1990s, I started going into Pasadena several times a year and having lunch with Rudd. She shared with me some chapters of a memoir on growing up with her mother she had been writing.

Rudd’s mother Ruth Bryan Owen was the daughter of William Jennings Bryan, the great populist and progressive who was three times the Democratic candidate for president at the turn of the twentieth century. He went on to become the secretary of state in President Wilson’s first administration. He greatly strengthened the Federal Reserve Act, pushed for the passage of anti-trust legislation, and the creation of the Federal Trade Commission--legislation that established a preeminent role for the federal government in the managing of the national economy. Ruth Bryan Owen herself went on to be a Congresswoman from Florida in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as America’s first woman ambassador when she was posted as minister to Denmark in 1933.

Rudd was borne in 1920 of her mother’s second marriage to British army officer Reginald Owen of the Royal Engineers. He had survived arduous duty at Gallipoli during the ill-fated invasion of Turkey without being wounded. But upon returning to Cairo, Owen had contracted a debilitating and ultimately fatal kidney disease during a routine hospitalization. He died in 1927. Owen was very close to his young daughter Rudd because his wife Ruth was often away from their home in Miami speaking on the Chautaqua circuit where, like her famous father, she was a star attraction. Ruth was the breadwinner for the family. 

While having lunch with Rudd in 2013 to discuss publishing her memoir, the ninety-three-year-old grande dame recalled with a wistful air that her father had five decorations for gallantry for service in the Middle East, three of them the Military Cross—an extraordinary record. She savored the memory, remembering the dedication her father had brought to the ideal of being a proper Englishman in an era when the English felt they were making large contributions to moving civilization forward. He came from a family of successful tea planters on the island of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

Rudd originally wrote the memoir in the 1990s and she had shared many of the chapters with me during those years. I would periodically inquire as to its status and eventually discovered that the near-finished manuscript was in limbo. I offered to help Rudd and her literary executor Emily Adelson publish the book on CreateSpace. Furthermore I would undertake to publish the Kindle edition. So that brought about the 2013 luncheon, which led to a final copy edit, and then production of print and ebook editions. 

The book is an entrancing look at large personalities in an era of tumultuous political and social change. There are fascinating glimpses of her older sister Kitty who was married to Wall Street financier Robert “Bobbie” Lehman and her mother’s marriage in 1937 to her third husband at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Hyde Park estate.

Rudd graduated from Bernard College just as the US entered World War II and promptly joined the Navy WAVE program. As a young lieutenant she served in Iran during the war years, a foundation for her deep knowledge of international affairs. After the war, she married Harrison Brown, a professor at Cal Tech and veteran of the atomic bomb building Manhattan Project. During these years Brown was foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and traveled the world. He was Adlai Stevenson’s science adviser in the 1956 presidential campaign.

After the 1960 congressional campaign, Rudd accepted a political appointment in Sacramento and commuted from Pasadena to the state capital serving as a Parks and Recreation commissioner. Rudd Brown passed away in Pasadena in the evening of June 20, 2015.

Helen Myers - Political Years

Helen Myers met Rudd during the 1952 Adlai Stevenson campaign when Helen was organization chairman of the Los Angeles Democratic Central Committee and Democratic clubs were being set up across Southern California in response to a groundswell of support for Stevenson. Helen recommended Rudd to be the Stevenson campaign’s Southern California chairman. In 1957, Rudd mentioned that she might want to run for Congress in a local district currently occupied by a Republican member who was also a John Birch Society member. Helen offered to manage the campaign.

Helen Myers was born in 1914 to Swedish immigrants and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. While working on the South Side of Chicago for the Chicago Relief Administration she contracted a pulmonary infection requiring her relocation to Tucson. She spent the World War II years in Tucson working for the Red Cross before reuniting with her husband in 1945 in San Diego where he was a naval officer. 

She was elected to the Los Angeles Democratic Central Committee in 1948 and worked on the Steven Zetterberg Congressional campaign against Richard Nixon. In 1950, she managed an assembly campaign for Evelyn Johnson, a respected PTA leader in the San Gabriel Valley. Evelyn won the primary—a difficult feat in those days of cross-filingand a lot of people noticed. This put Helen into the organization chair of the County Central Committee. She went on in 1954 to be the founding vice president of the California Democratic Council, the major platform for the rejuvenation of the California party in the 1950s and a prerequisite to the great success Democrats had in the 1958 election. Alan Cranston was the founding president and later a long-serving U.S. senator.

During the 1956 presidential campaign Helen had worked on the Adlai Stevenson effort in Southern California, an effort including filling the Hollywood Bowl to maximum capacity for a Stevenson rally and a gala fundraiser at the Paladium Ballroom in Hollywood. After 1956, Helen was looking for the next challenge. Her preferred challenge was a solid woman candidate taking on a Republican incumbent, the only opportunities generally available to women candidates in those years. A Rudd Brown campaign intrigued her; 1958 was shaping up to be a big Democratic year with Edmund G. “Pat” Brown heading the ticket. Possibly the John Birch Society affiliation of the incumbent could be a further plus. And Rudd’s husband Harrison had national fund raising connections, a not inconsiderable attraction. In addition to Harrison Brown’s many contacts at Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, several members of the politically connected O’Melveny and Myers law firm worked on the campaign. Bill Norris served as treasurer and went on to be a US federal appeals judge. Fred Dutton advised on political affairs and went on to be a U.S. assistant secretary of state in the John F. Kennedy administration. The 1958 election was lost in a recount and Rudd went on and ran again in 1960, but with favorite son Richard Nixon on the top of the presidential ticket, the political tide was less favorable than 1958.  

In 1959, Helen asked the newly elected administration of Pat Brown for a job and got an appointment to a nice position in nearby Pasadena as a regional disaster office coordinator. She served as a political appointee until 1967 when she got "bumped" by another Democrat in the Reagan downsizing; interestingly, the Republicans were okay with keeping her in her position; she got the work done--somewhat unusual for a political appointee! And by that time she was "best friends" with a bevy of retired admirals and generals that had retirement jobs advising cities on civil defense. She resigned her partisan political positions in 1962 when the job came under federal civil service rules. 

Helen Myers passed away in the afternoon at her family home in Claremont on Septmeber 14, 2005.

 Some Recollections

 El Monte Union Hall. In October 1962 when I was sixteen I drove my mother to the Carpenters Union Hall in El Monte. Her father had been a member of the local and Evelyn Johnson’s second husband Les Roland had been business manager. The heyday of this local had been the great buildout of the San Gabriel Valley in the 1940s and 50s. Helen had been asked to provide some remarks on the upcoming election pitting Edmund G “Pat” Brown against former Vice President Richard Nixon.

 After the business meeting, Helen got up and addressed a couple dozen shop stewards and others. It was a very empathetic recitation of the policies enacted by Democrats to bring prosperity to working class Americans and to strengthen the union movement. In 1962 in suburban California, the results seemed to speak for themselves. Heads nodded as the policy successes were rolled off, the results recounted, and the not so subtle message to remember which political party brought you to the party. This little talk, of which Helen was something of a master from her days organizing several hundred Democratic clubs across Southern California, has stuck in my mind as over the years I have watched wooden-headed and tongue-twisted Democratic candidates fail to connect with the broad middle of the American electorate.

 Myers family home. In the summer of 1964—I was eighteen at the time—my mother had a later afternoon cocktail party. In the kitchen the tall dark-haired Rudd Brown was politically gossiping with Helen. The Democrats were on a roll. Pat Brown’s administration in Sacramento had implemented its Master Plan for Education featuring solid funding for the University of California, a greatly expanded state college system, and further expansion of the community college system. The freeway expansion program was laying miles of concrete every month. The California water project was underway. In Washington D.C., President Lyndon Johnson was passing the greatest wave of progressive legislation since Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In the living room I was standing a couple of feet away listening to John Gaffney and Harrison Brown talk. They were immensely enjoying each other’s company and recounting one great story or insight after another. Gaffney had learned his politics as a young man in the Boss Pendergast machine in Kansas City, Missouri. This was the political organization that put Harry Truman into the U.S. Senate. Gaffney was a top political troubleshooeter from Governor Brown and in 1960 Lyndon Johnson had asked Gaffney to manage his floor fight at the Democratic Convention at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Gaffney declined, understanding that LBJ was angling for delegates from the fractious California delegation, most of whom were still for Adlai Stevenson.

In contrast, Harrison Brown was traveling the world as foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and was used to both high-level policy making and politics; he had served as Adlai Stevenson’s science adviser in the 1956 presidential campaign. I was simply fascinated. This was about nine months after the Kennedy assassination and Gaffney had shrewdly observed that Kennedy seemed ambivalent about the presidency since he spent so much time away from the White House. At that time no one knew about the severity of his illnesses. Harrison Brown spoke eloquently about the many concrete benefits the space program was bringing to both the country and to Southern California and that California’s lead in science education in particular was a great asset. There was a strong sense that a great future was unfolding lead by strong government leadership in both Sacramento and Washington D.C.  In my career a met many top-flight scientists and engineers but never one with the magnetic charm of Harrison Brown. 

Arcadia campaign fund raiser. In 1996, Claremont Democrats supported Dave Levering, a retired Cal Poly history professor, against the incumbent Republican Congressmen in the biannual ritual offering up of a Democratic sacrificial lamb as candidate. Helen felt running strong candidates in Republican districts contributed to election victories at the state-wide level, which during most of the post-war era were hard fought. Rudd Brown spoke as the headliner of this backyard fundraiser in a spacious house in Arcadia. She recounted the role her grandmother Chattie played in the political life of her illustrious grandfather William Jennings Bryan, who was a great orator and apostle of policy but also needed day-to-day management, which was provided by his sharp-witted wife.

The little talk was educational, very witty, and classic Rudd Brown—amusing and understated and a great distance from the thundering oratory for which both her grandfather and her mother were famous. She held the assembled Democrats near-spellbound in recounting these insights into the long ago campaigns of the Great Commoner, the man who put the progressivism into the modern Democratic party.

                           

 

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