White House staff gathers to support longtime Obama aide with leukemia
One of President Obama’s longest-serving aides is putting on another big event as he did for years at the White House, and more than 50 current and former administration officials have dropped everything over the last few days to join in.
There’s beer and laughter, and storytelling from Obama’s 2008 campaign and from the hundreds of trips that the former staffer, Brandon Lepow, helped put together as an advance man and later a spokesman for the president.
Lepow’s immune system is failing him after two years of fighting leukemia, so Obama world is assembling in Houston, Lepow’s hometown, packing MD Anderson Cancer Center with tacos, Texas beer and war stories.
“Dozens of the busiest people in the world dropped what they were doing and were at his side in less than 24 hours,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s former longtime senior advisor. “That says everything you need to know about Brandon.”
A tall, lanky basketball player with a shock of black hair and beard, Lepow, 32, made a name for himself as part of Obama’s driven young logistics team. Lepow helped build that team, dealing with difficult officials of foreign governments, making the president’s rope lines run on time and ensuring that no staffer or journalist missed the bus, plane or helicopter. He did it, often, with a grin on his face and a prank in the works.
Lepow’s “talent and character embody the secret of the success of this team that has become a family,” President Obama said in an email sent through his press secretary Monday.
Born and raised in Houston, Lepow went to St. Edwards University in Austin. He joined the 2008 campaign before the Texas primary as a volunteer working on the team that sets up the president’s trips.
Lepow became one of the White House regional communications directors in 2011, but he still volunteered to help run trips. He scrambled to get to Newtown, Conn., in the wake of the deadly shooting of schoolchildren and teachers in 2012, personally shepherding some of the families as they gathered for a memorial.
Even after Lepow left the White House to work for Facebook, he still worked on trips for the president from time to time.
He was planning his wedding in 2013 when doctors told him he had T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare cancer.
He went into 10 months of treatment and into remission, then moved with his wife to San Francisco, where for six months they worked, went for runs together and walked their Wheaten terrier, Penny, by the bay.
Lepow relapsed at the beginning of 2015 and moved back to Houston for a stem cell transplant in April. This summer, he learned that his body was rejecting that transplant. Now he has pneumonia.
But illness hasn’t been the focus at the cancer center over the past few days, said Bobby Schmuck, a political advisor to Obama. There was a Shabbat dinner led by Lepow’s stepfather on Friday. Lepow said a prayer.
Lepow is joking with friends who arrive in “waves,” coordinated by the advance team alums.
Sunday night, as people passed around bulk bags of candy, they regaled each other with tales of favorite Lepow pranks.
Once, Lepow roused fellow advance man Josh Lipsky at 6 a.m. local time in a foreign country to let him know Air Force One would be landing six hours early. Lipsky was halfway out the door before Lepow called off the joke.
But he always called off the joke, friends say, because his focus was making the White House work.
“Throughout his career, Brandon’s decency has made him a trusted advance staffer, an effective spokesman and advocate for the president,” said Josh Earnest, Obama’s press secretary. “He’s as good a colleague and friend as anyone could hope for.”
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