by Max Brantley
Garry Brewer, a long-time Social Security administrative law judge, died Saturday at 67. On the jump, I pass along an obituary written by Ernest Dumas. It recalls Brewer's prominence as a Bumpers and then Clinton appointee who took on the special interests -- the trucking industry -- he regulated as a Transportation commissioner. Imagine that.
Read on for a slice of Arkansas political history.
Garry Brewer, who devoted 42 years of a public and private practice of law to the interests of workers and consumers, died Saturday at a Little Rock hospital at the age of 67.
From 1988 until his death, he was an administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration, where he adjudicated the claims of disabled workers. He had lived and practiced at Blytheville and Little Rock and lived for two years at Jacksonville, but for the past two years he lived in a small caretaker’s cabin perched on a cliff on Petit Jean Mountain. The house, which he renovated, was part of a 20-acre goat farm that had belonged to the late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. There he maintained a fleet of antique motorcycles and cars that he had restored, including a red Bugeye Sprite that he had acquired in 1971 and kept tuned to perfection for 38 years.
Brewer was born April 10, 1941, at Wickes in Polk County, son of Garry and Sylvia Jewel Brewer. He joined the Air Force at the age of 17 and had his tour extended a year by the Cuban Missile Crisis. He attended and graduated from Arkansas Polytechnic College and received a law degree at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was on the Law Review.
For three years he practiced with a defense law firm at Blytheville. In 1968 and 1970 he and his wife Pam chaired the gubernatorial campaigns of Ted Boswell and Dale Bumpers in the least hospitable county in Arkansas for reform candidates.
When Bumpers was elected he hired Brewer as legal counsel and correctional liaison in the governor’s office and in 1973 appointed him to the state Transportation Commission, which regulated rates and jurisdiction for truck and bus companies. He eventually became chairman of the commission and promulgated tougher consumer-protection rules that were opposed by much of the industry.
His service on the commission was at times tumultuous. A relentless advocate of ethics and honesty, Brewer publicly exposed a fellow commissioner who had gone to Memphis to solicit and collect a hefty political gift from the president of an interstate trucking company that was seeking legal authority from the commission to operate in Arkansas. The commissioner said the cash was for his party, not for himself, although the money apparently was never delivered to the party, and he saw no conflict of interest in soliciting money from a company that had a major application pending before him. Brewer demanded that the commissioner resign or be removed. He publicly scolded a state senator and a wealthy businessman for acquiring a small trucking company and raiding the employee pension fund before putting it into bankruptcy.
When Gov. Bill Clinton reappointed him in 1979, the industry, aided by three state senators who had trucking interests, mounted an effort to block Brewer’s confirmation by the Senate saying that he was not sympathetic to the interests of the industry. To Brewer’s amazement, Sen. Max Howell, the dean of the Senate and the leader of the legislature’s Old Guard, urged the Senate to disregard the companies’ opposition and confirm him, and it did.
After leaving the commission in 1985 he returned to private practice full time in Little Rock and practiced labor, transportation and oil and gas law with several Little Rock lawyers, including John T. Lavey, Melva Harmon (whom he later married) and Jim Duckett. He was an administrative law judge for Social Security the last 20 years of his life, where he earned a reputation for clearing more cases than any other referee and, more often than most, deciding them in favor of workers. Among the closest of a wide circle of friends were Chief Justice Jim Hannah of the Arkansas Supreme Court, Robert L. Neighbors, another Social Security judge, and Charles Chastain, professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Though sick, he went to Batesville to conduct a week of hearings this winter because he had developed an affinity for the town and its lawyers over 20 years, and he returned acutely ill. He entered the hospital, where he died three weeks later.
His passion was restoring antique motorcycles. He spent his vacations and every break in work on camping sojourns into the American Rockies, Canada, and the Rio Grande and Pecos River valleys in the west Texas plains, eight of them with another motorcycle aficionado and old friend, Darrell Hickman of Pangburn, a retired justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, and other trips with a variety of friends who shared his love for motorcycles and high-country trails. He spent hundreds of hours rebuilding and perfecting vintage cycles at Jerry’s Triumph motorcycle shop on Burlingame Road, operated by his friend Jerry Kocinski.
Survivors are his mother, who lives in Mena; two sons of whom he was particularly proud, Dr. Stephen Brewer of the University of Mississippi and his wife Ashley of Oxford, Miss., and Detective Lt . Barry Scott Brewer of the Little Rock police; two sisters, Margie Robertson of Dallas and Bobbie Brewer of Wisconsin; three grandchildren, Charlotte, Lee and Chet Brewer of Oxford; and Pam Althoff of Little Rock, the mother of his sons.
Arrangements are by Roller Funeral Home at Little Rock.