Queen’s grads remember Shawn Brimley

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Former Journal staff recall Brimley’s days before successful political career

The Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

On Jan. 9, friends, family and colleagues mourned the loss of 40-year-old Queen’s alumni Shawn Brimley — a senior Pentagon and White House official.

According to an obituary in The Washington Post, Brimley passed away in a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland due to complications from colon cancer.

Brimley was born in Mississauga in 1977, going on to study Poltical Studies and History at Queen’s, where he graduated in 2001. In 1998-99, Brimley worked at The Queen’s Journal as an Assistant News Editor.

The two co-Editors-in-Chief who hired Brimley, Keith Gerein and Tara Mansbridge, shared fond memories of Brimley in an email to The Journal.

“What comes to mind most easily when I think about Shawn was his sense of humour — slightly goofy, cheerful and self-deprecating all at the same time,” Gerein wrote. “That sense of humour was on full display when he came in for his first interview to join The Queen’s Journal staff.” 

Brimley's Journal staff photo from 1998-99.

According to Gerein, Brimley’s place on staff wasn’t immediately clear — he wanted to work in the Arts and Entertainment section, which was full. However, the Editors-in-Chief “knew [they] had to get him on staff somehow because having him around all year would be a blast.” 

“It didn’t take long to convince Shawn to take a place with the news team, and I like to think that maybe helped set him on a course that led to his brilliant policy career,” Gerein wrote.

Indeed, Brimley’s career was brilliant — he served in multiple positions for the US government between 2009 and 2012. He worked as a Special Adviser at the Pentagon and a Director of Strategic Planning at the National Security Council. Most recently, he served as Vice-President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security.

According to the organization’s website, the Center for a New American Security is an “independent, bipartisan, 

non-profit organization that develops strong, pragmatic, and principled national security and defence policies.” Brimley was mainly interested in preparing for robotic warfare, helping to develop the Pentagon’s “third-offset strategy” — a strategy that aimed to prepare the US military for conflict with countries such as Russia or China.

Years before all these accomplishments had been realized, Brimley displayed his great potential through his work at The Journal, Gerein wrote.

“As the year progressed, all of us learned that Shawn possessed a few other qualities beyond his sense of humour: a high level of intelligence and an enormous work ethic, a deep sensitivity to injustice and an unshakeable loyalty to his friends. He was often the motivational driving force behind many of the important projects and stories the news team accomplished that year,” Gerein wrote.

“I wish we had stayed in touch more in the last 20 years, but I did follow Shawn’s career from afar. The heights he achieved in his life came as no surprise to me. It’s a tragedy that life, with so much more to give, had to end so quickly.”

Jocelyn Laporte Moodie, another former Journal staff member who worked with Brimley on the news team in 1998-99, also remembered her old coworker fondly.

“He was such a wonderful person to be around,” Laporte Moodie wrote. “Full of both conviction and positivity. I remember he had a great laugh. I have a distinct memory of him playing a guitar upstairs before a Journal editorial meeting and just strumming and laughing about whatever was being said. He was a great team player and a good friend.”

Two of Brimley’s friends, Michèle Flournoy and Richard Fontaine, started an online fundraiser to ensure his three children have adequate funds to go to college. 

“Shawn has been an important part of so many of our lives,” the description reads. “Please be generous in helping us secure the future education of his children.”

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