Brooke Shearer, who died from complications of cancer on May 19, and who had worked for CUNA in the 1980s, was a tremendous friend of credit unions and worked to their benefit even during her last illness. Both of us met Brooke back in her CUNA days and continued to maintain a friendship over more than 20 years.
Brooke ran in very powerful circles. She was a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton going back to the 1970s (through her brother at Yale). Her father was Parade Magazine’s Lloyd Shearer, who knew and wrote about many of the 20th century’s most powerful and celebrated people. Her husband, Strobe Talbott, has been highly placed in Washington since the 1980s, including Deputy Secretary of State. Brooke knew Hollywood stars and the world’s elite, but she well understood that real life took root at a different level, where person knew person. She always felt the cooperative spirit could move the world to a better place.
Both of us knew Brooke well and were personal friends, and space does not permit us to recount the many times she affected us and our families on a personal level. Well beyond what one would expect of a friend, she reached out with her time and her energy to help us and our children (she had two of similar age) with kindnesses that are now part of our lives and that we can never forget. When Chip’s wife Mary Ann died in 1985, leaving two teenage daughters, Brooke could have merely written a letter. Instead she contacted Mary Ann’s high school, college, and post-college friends for remembrances and pictures and made a memory book for Chip’s daughters, an astonishing work over four months. Countless times she reached out to Bucky’s family with kindnesses large and small.
We would revere her enough for that – and for dealing with the low and unknown as warmly as with the mighty – but take special note of her efforts for credit unions. When at CUNA, she recruited world-class speakers for the GAC, launching it to national prominence. Later, when she traveled the world on behalf of the Department of the Interior, she championed the cooperative movement. Over the last five years she promoted micro-lending for women in India and Bangladesh and hosted the Indian woman who led the movement. Even in her last illness she was bringing Chip together with Federal Reserve Governors and Treasury officials she knew in order to promote credit unions as a solution in today’s financial upheavals.
Just before she died she was working on a paper meant to explain credit unions to Obama Administration officials. “Credit unions are in a position to lead America through this financial-economic crisis,” she wrote them and championed credit unions as the essence of economic democracy.
Brooke had other interests and other jobs. She ran the White House Fellows Program during Clinton’s presidency and a program to help other countries develop national parks. She organized an effort to bring young leaders here from other lands, and worked for women’s issues, for HIV education abroad, and for reconstruction in Afghanistan. She was a whirlwind of energy; she could charm the devil; she could outsmart the smartest person in the room; and she could whip you at tennis or in a marathon.
She never sought the limelight; she didn’t work for her own benefit. She kept her accomplishments personal and behind the scenes. She had a loyalty that went beyond loyalty. And that extended to credit unions. She was their friend. Not only are the two of us better for having been a friend of Brooke’s but so are credit unions. She was taken from us too soon, much too soon.