Elizabeth Merrill “Lisa” Brown ’78 combines her two passions – public service and education – by serving as General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Education.
Growing up in a family of lawyers as role models, Brown learned early on about the power of a legal degree when working to bring about positive change in policies. “Both my grandfather and my father used their legal degrees – in government and in private practice respectively – to further values and causes they believed in.”
She entered Hotchkiss as a Lower Mid in 1975, the second year that Hotchkiss admitted girls. “I looked at a number of New England boarding schools with great academics and athletics, and chose Hotchkiss. One of my fondest memories is of alumni weekend my first year, overhearing an alumnus exclaim how cool it was to watch girls compete. I never felt like a second-class citizen. It is probably no surprise that several of the female students of my era later went on to be blockbuster successes in their fields of choice.
“My favorite faculty member was hands down my advisor, Walter Crain P’86, ’89. A steady, calming influence, Mr. Crain showed us what it meant to live a life of principle with deep caring and a sense of humor. Forty years after graduating – thanks to the Hotchkiss Alumni Association – his daughter, Adrienne Crain Dedjinou ’89, reached out for advice on DC legal careers, not knowing of my connection to her father. How meaningful it was to make that connection and in some small way pass forward what he gave me.”
After leaving Lakeville, Brown matriculated at Princeton, finding the transition easy thanks to her Hotchkiss preparation and also the fact that several classmates went to Princeton as well (Wiz Lippincott ’78 was her roommate all four years of college). She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in political economy before earning her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.
Brown clerked for the Honorable John C. Godbold on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Montgomery, Alabama; had a one-year fellowship at the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles; and then joined the Washington law firm of Shea & Gardner where she became a partner and her practice included extensive pro bono work representing individuals with disabilities and the homeless.
She served the Clinton administration, first in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, and then as Counsel to Vice President Al Gore. In 2002, she became the Executive Director of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.
Six years later, after serving as Co-Director of Agency Review for the Obama-Biden Transition Project, Brown joined the Administration of President Barack Obama, first as Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary in the White House, and then as Acting Chief Performance Officer at the Office of Management and Budget.
In 2013, Brown joined Georgetown University as vice president and general counsel, where she served for over eight years.
In May of 2021, President Biden nominated Brown to serve as General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Education, and she was confirmed by the Senate in October.
In her current role, she draws on her extensive experience to further her passion for public service and education for all. “Public service is an honor and a privilege,” says Brown. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work for three Administrations and to do my part to make government work better for the people. Today’s politics are so partisan, and what struck me early on, and has been a constant, is the dedication of government employees, who simply work hard every day to adopt and implement policies that help improve the lives of others.”
“My parents believed that the most important thing they could give their three daughters was a good education, and I was blessed to have a great education at Hotchkiss. Every child in America deserves the same. The American dream of opportunity through hard work depends now, more than ever, on access to an affordable, high quality education. This challenge is only heightened by the pandemic, which has exacerbated inequities, and we need to do all we can to help students recover lost ground and thrive socially and emotionally.
“If the U.S. Department of Education achieves its mission, every parent will be able to tell their children what my father told his three daughters: if you work hard and earn a quality education, you can do anything you want.”