Love matters more than partisan politics, and no couple better exemplified this truth than Jake Brewer and Mary Katharine Ham. Jake worked in the Obama White House as a senior advisor to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. Mary Katharine is a beloved conservative blogger, author and Fox News contributor.
Jake, 34, died Saturday in a bike accident while raising money for the Ride to Conquer Cancer event in Maryland. He lost his life in service of others, a metaphor for how he devoted his life to public service; he was committed to helping the underprivileged harness the power of the Internet to improve their lives.
“I am heartbroken at the tragic loss of one of my advisors, Jake Brewer,” President Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Simply put, Jake was one of the best. Armed with a brilliant mind, a big heart, and an insatiable desire to give back, Jake devoted his life to empowering people and making government work better for them. He worked to give citizens a louder voice in our society. He engaged our striving immigrants. He pushed for more transparency in our democracy. And he sought to expand opportunity for all. I’ve often said that today’s younger generation is smarter, more determined, and more capable of making a difference than I was as a young man. Jake was proof of that. Michelle and I are praying for all of Jake’s family and his many friends, most of all his wife, Mary Katharine Ham, their daughter, Georgia, and their growing family. They’ll always have a family here at the White House.”
Jake with his wife, Mary Katherine, and their daughter, Georgia / Photo: Instagram
Married in 2011, Mary Katharine and Jake were jovial about their political disagreements, sparring on topics ranging from liberal New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to American hegemony and even the regulatory policies of table salt.
“We have a mixed marriage, of sorts,” Mary Katharine joked in a joint radio broadcast with Jake in 2011 about the couple’s top five political fights that year, moderated by former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. Though they disagreed on plenty, they were both passionate about how the Internet could transform society in positive ways.
Jake previously managed external affairs at the online petition site Change.org, which has more than 100 million users pushing for causes ranging from obtaining organ donations to providing asylum for the translator of a U.S. serviceman who served in Afghanistan.
“It is almost a cliché to say that the Internet has allowed people that wouldn’t have power in any other circumstance, to have it,” Jake said last year at the popular tech gathering South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. “So it’s not just the case that somebody makes a decision and you don’t have any say in that decision. Now you can say ‘Hey I want this to change, and all of us in this area wants this to change, or everyone who cares about this wants this to change.’ And so that kind of way that the Internet allows a big group to democratically come together is what the platform is all about.”
Just as Jake used online organizing to affect social change, now those he left behind are galvanized to help Mary Katharine raise the couple’s two-year-old daughter and unborn child. Guy Benson, Mary Katharine’s co-author on a recent book, organized an online Go Fund Me campaign with the goal of raising $200,000 for the children’s education. So far, hundreds of donations have poured in.
“This will change us, but with prayer and love and the strength that is their companion, we can hope our heartache is not in vain — that it will change us and the world in beautiful ways, just as he did. If that sounds too optimistic at this time, it’s because it is,” Mary Katharine wrote in an Instagram post about Jake’s tragic death. “But there was no thought too optimistic for Jake, so take it and run with it.”
Mary Katharine’s words of tribute to Jake in wake of this loss bring healing to those who knew him. They are a testament to his transcending values of grace, courage and empathy. Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones.
Carrie Sheffield is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @carriesheffield and on Facebook.