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To Karmen Brown, victims' advocacy is personal

To Karmen Brown, victims' advocacy is personal
Karmen Brown, wife of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, outside the Brown-Ulman campaign offices in Largo. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

Karmen Bailey Walker didn't know yet about the traffic stop or the gunfire, but she knew in her gut the gravity of what she was seeing: Prince George's County police cruisers streaming past her on the highway.

A phone call confirmed what she dreaded most: An officer had been shot.

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It was June 21, 2005 — 19 months after Walker's own husband, a Prince George's police corporal, died in an auto accident. Now she found herself racing to the hospital where another officer, Steven Gaughan, was taken after being mortally wounded following an attempted traffic stop.

"What I tried to do after my loss was to reach back and help the next family get through," she said.

Some people choose their causes. In the case of Walker — who married Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony G. Brown in 2012 — her issue seems to have been selected for her.

Now Karmen Walker Brown, a government relations liaison for cable television giant Comcast, she said she has felt pulled to the scenes of other officers' tragedies since her first husband, Cpl. Anthony M. Walker, died after his unmarked police car slid off a slippery road and crashed into a tree in November 2003.

If Brown defeats Republican candidate Larry Hogan on Nov. 4, she said, she hopes to continue advocating for crime victims as Maryland's first lady.

That would mean becoming more visible on an issue friends say she has kept mostly private. In an interview at the Brown campaign's Largo headquarters, her tone changed when she began talking about the deaths of Gaughan and other officers. She shifted in her seat, dropped her head and lowered her voice.

"I think it is probably very healing for her also to be involved and to have that connection," said Denise Bunker, who has known Karmen Brown, 55, since they were young children growing up in North Babylon, N.Y. "But it isn't something she talks about. It's personal. She is a very strong character."

In 2008, Karmen Brown —then a single mother to her son, Anthony — again found herself at a hospital to see an officer who had been gravely injured. Prince George's County Cpl. Richard S. Findley was run over by a suspected car thief.

This time, she was accompanied by Gaughan's widow, Donna, herself a former police officer.

"She and I together went to Laurel to be with Kelly Findley, the wife," Karmen Brown said.

Anthony Walker was almost 4 when his father died. He is now 14.

Brown, 52, who was divorced from his first wife, Patricia, in 2009, also has a 14-year-old son, Jonathan, and a daughter, Rebecca, 19. Rebecca attends the University of Maryland. Jonathan, who is adopted, "goes between his mom and his dad," Karmen Brown said, and Anthony lives with the couple.

Anthony Brown's mother, Lilly, who is in her 80s, moved into the family's Prince George's County home recently.

Using his blended family as an example, Brown has talked publicly about the importance of adoption and foster care. "My Son Jonathan" was the title of a post he wrote in 2012 on the governor's website about "the gift of adoption." A photo showed him wrestling playfully with Jonathan and Rebecca.

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With Anthony Brown's overloaded campaign schedule, Karmen said, "If I can keep things OK at home, then he doesn't have to think about that."

For the benefit of her son, she has saved photographs and other items of his father, who was a leader of the county's Fraternal Order of Police lodge.

"I wanted him to at least be able to have something — whether it's a jacket, a sweatshirt, a watch, things of that nature," she said. "We talk about his father, and we are very close with my former mother-in-law."

Said Anne Stavely, a longtime friend: "She does a tremendous job of making sure he knows Anthony's dad adored him."

Stavely was maid of honor at the couple's Memorial Day 2012 wedding. Karmen Brown's son walked her down the aisle at the University of Maryland chapel before nearly 400 guests, including Gov. Martin O'Malley.

They met through a mutual friend. Before their first date, Anthony Brown — known for being meticulous — scouted the location, Crofton's Sly Horse Tavern, assessing the tables and previewing the menu.

"We talked for hours," Karmen Brown said. "I think we closed the restaurant down."

She attended high school in Prince George's County before earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Florida and a master's in telecommunications from Syracuse University.

At Comcast, she said, she administers franchise agreements with local governments, dealing frequently with elected officials. Her friends say she seemed poised from an early age, and her long tenure — she has been with the company for 30 years — has helped prepare her for a campaign.

"My lifestyle," Anthony Brown said, "is not for the faint of heart."

Being a first lady can place a prominent woman on unfamiliar footing. The position can make her famous while also casting her in a supporting role.

If Anthony Brown is elected governor, his wife said, she would not mind transitioning into a less demanding role at Comcast. She said she would need to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, "whether it's negotiating contracts and things of that nature."

For now, she is an active participant in the campaign, speaking at picnics and luncheons.

Anthony Brown would be Maryland's first African-American governor. Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughers Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Karmen Brown could "speak directly to that community, which is a core voting bloc."

Advocacy for victims, Kromer said, "is a big issue for the black community, especially in Baltimore."

Karmen Brown said she can sense when Brown wants to discuss the campaign in private and when he needs to decompress.

"I will give him advice from time to time — a suggestion, or 'You might want to think about this or talk to your team about this.'"

Brown has alleged that Republican opponent Larry Hogan would take the state backward on abortion and other social issues if he could. Hogan opposes abortion but has said he would not try to change existing Maryland law.

Karmen Brown said her husband's views on the subject are consistent with her own.

"I think the only thing I really want to say there is that I do believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe that women should have control over their own bodies," she said.

She reads news articles, so she knows about Hogan's attacks on the state's failed rollout of Maryland's health insurance website and on the widespread corruption found among correctional officers at the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center.

On the latter — a subject of natural interest, because she was married to a police officer — she says: "I know the story, but there is always a whole lot more to the story than what you see in headlines and what you see in articles."

Stavely, media coordinator at a Calvert County hospice, said she could hardly imagine somebody being more equipped to be a first lady.

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"Karmen is probably the strongest, most compassionate women I have ever known," she said. "Because of her career, this is not something that is foreign to her. She is familiar with that world."

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Karmen Walker

Age: 55

Job: Government relations liaison, Comcast Corp.

Education: B.S., University of Florida, M.S (telecommunications) Syracuse University

Family: Married; one child and two stepchildren.

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