And then everything changed. Photographer: Mike Evans/AFP/Getty Images.
And then everything changed. Photographer: Mike Evans/AFP/Getty Images.

In 1979, I wrote a critical front-page Wall Street Journal profile of leading Republican presidential contender John Connally. The tough-talking Texan demanded that his press secretary call the Journal's top brass and get me fired. Later that press secretary reported back: "They won't do it; those bastards always stick together." Connally just shook his head.

The press secretary was James Brady, who of course never actually called the Journal's executives. Rather, he mollified the candidate without causing further damage.

Jim, who died today at 73, left a mark on America; he was a man of indomitable courage in the face of awful adversity.

A couple years after the Connally incident, he was riding high as Ronald Reagan's press secretary when he was severely shot in the head during an attempted assassination of the new president. My wife, Judy Woodruff, then NBC's White House correspondent, was standing yards away; it was a gruesome scene. This was only 10 weeks into the Reagan administration and Brady -- who was smart, funny, knew the ways of Washington and was respected by the press -- could have been become a Reagan insider.

It wasn't to be.

Jim never really recovered from his near-fatal brain injury, was wheelchair-bound and faced numerous health setbacks over the next three decades. But he didn't disappear. He and his incredibly persistent and gutsy wife, Sarah, became the most visible champions of a sensible gun policy in America. In 1993, the so-called Brady Law was signed by President Bill Clinton; it requires a background check before purchasing most firearms.

Related: James Brady and the Fallacy of Good Guys With Guns

The law was diluted by the courts and politicians, and had too many loopholes. Still, millions of gun purchases have been blocked and probably many lives saved.

The Bradys became an inspiring presence at major events in Washington and in the corridors of Congress, sometimes at the White House. Jim lost a lot, never his spirit or humor.

A few weeks before the shooting in 1981, Jim and Sarah took my wife and me to dinner. Near the end of a delightful evening, I asked him a needling question about the White House. His instant retort: "I should have gotten you fired."

To contact the writer of this article: Al Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net.