Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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Sue Brooks, Las Vegas educator and activist who pushed Question 1, dies at 70 survey volunteers Sue Brooks, right, and Addie Crisp, in mask, talk to Robert Martin of Las Vegas about the difference between President George W. Bush and John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, May 29, 2008.

During a chilly December evening last year, the attention of several dozen orange-wearing gun-control advocates was centered on Sue Brooks.

That day, the sign-toting crowd comprising men, women and children marched on downtown Las Vegas sidewalks in remembrance of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre three years prior.

Before the trek began, Brooks, with a microphone in one hand and a clipboard in another, provided direction: "Take advantage of the hashtag #endgunviolence," she says on a YouTube video. "They're going to be looking; they're going to be watching."

Brooks, a longtime tenacious political activist and retired elementary school principal, died from cancer on Sunday. She was 70.

Her leadership and work are being lauded as one of the drivers into Question 1 passing last week. Beginning in January, anyone trying to transfer or sell a gun in Nevada has to go through a licensed dealer, who would in turn run a background check on the buyer.

The ballot measure squeaked through with only a 9,901-vote advantage.

"(Brooks is) personally responsible for changing at least that many minds," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

The day after 20 small children and six adults were slain by a mentally ill gunman who stormed the Connecticut school, Watts started the group on Facebook, which would later spread "like wildfire" across the country. Brooks was one of the first people to contact her asking how she could help, Watts said.

Watts was initially skeptical on how much the chapter could pick up locally, since Las Vegas is a transient town, she said. The doubt quickly faded during her first in-person interaction with Brooks.

Brooks in 2013 hosted an event at her house that Watts attended — and so did about 75 others who would soon be mobilized.

"Sue was so great, so passionate and so committed." She was also "very no-nonsense, roll-up-your-sleeves type of person," who knew Nevada very well, Watts said.

Elizabeth Becker, who heads the organization's Nevada chapter, a position Brooks personally passed down to her when she fell ill this summer, remembers how tireless her friend was.

"She got so many other people involved," the 34-year-old said, noting that Brooks had worked to recruit many advocates, something that perhaps the organization wouldn't had been able to do without her, at least not at the same rate.

In one recent year, Brooks participated in 64 events, which ran from two to four hours, Becker said. This involved canvassing neighborhoods — wearing a large sun hat — hosting phone banks at least once a week, in which she herself made thousands of calls.

When she first showed symptoms of brain cancer prior to her diagnosis in July, she hesitated to go to a doctor and her colleagues had a hard time convincing her to do so because she had a phone bank to manage, Watts said.

Though gun control wasn't Brooks' only cause through the years, it was personal to her due to being so close to the younger generations as a school principal, but also because she had children and young grandchildren, Becker said.

Becker met her while they both campaigned for then presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, she said. They became close during U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's 2010 campaign.

Brooks' activism stemmed from having politically active family members, Becker said.

"Sue was just wonderful at talking to people, she could approach anyone. It didn't matter what their political affiliation was," Becker said.

She was kind and graceful even in disagreements, extremely knowledgeable, and had a knack of making people she talked to feel good, Becker said. More important, she was persuasive.

Brooks was also a good leader who knew how to identify people's strengths and pushed them to maximize their effectiveness, Becker said.

"She was my mentor," Becker said. "She's the kind of grandmother that I want to be."

After the election last week, her family told her the gun control battle had been won, Watts said. "(We're) hoping that brought her some peace and some joy and that she understands that she's personally responsible for ensuring the safety of the people of the country, and not just in Nevada."

Details on funeral arrangements weren't immediately available.

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