President praises Brown as employees gather and weep Secretary's wife sends workers a message of encouragement

Plane Crash In Bosnia

April 04, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Employees of the Commerce Department spent much of yesterday in a state of subdued shock, monitoring radios and televisions for the latest reports about the plane crash in Croatia that may have killed the head of their department and several colleagues.

"It's just a lot of gloom inside," said Brett Carmel, a 24-year-old intern in the Office of Inter-American Affairs.

"People are hoping the best but fearing the worst."

Hope turned to grief as reports confirmed that it was Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's plane that had crashed.

Then President Clinton, appearing at the department, delivered a speech in the tones of a eulogy.

"I knew several of the people who were on the plane," said Stephen Boykin, a 53-year-old senior business development ,X specialist in the department.

"It's been an awful day, just awful."

Mr. Boykin said he prayed for Mr. Brown and his family during noon Mass at a nearby church.

Mr. Clinton arrived at the department's headquarters shortly after 4 p.m. to address hundreds of employees gathered in the auditorium and others elsewhere watching on television.

The president relayed a message from Alma Brown, Mr. Brown's wife, eliciting sustained applause from his listeners.

"She said, 'Tell them Ron was proud of them, that he liked them, that he believed in them, and that he fought for the Commerce Department, and tell them that you're going to do that now,' " Mr. Clinton said.

The president was alluding to the fact that Mr. Brown struggled to preserve the Commerce Department even as Republicans in Congress propose abolishing it.

The department also faces the loss of thousands of jobs to government downsizing.

"He made this Commerce Department what it was meant to be," Mr. Clinton continued, "an instrument for realizing the potential of every American.

"And I ask you always, always to be fiercely proud for what you have done and very grateful for the opportunity to have done it."

Several people watching in the lobby dabbed away tears as Mr. Clinton spoke.

"It meant a lot," said Mary Parker, a program assistant in the imports administration, referring to the president's visit.

"He's a very sensitive person. It was a personal thing."

Pub Date: 4/04/96

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