BOSTON – U.S. Sen. Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts says his turbulent childhood made him more resilient and a stronger person.
“A lot of the stuff that you hear and see in the TV and the newspapers and all the negativity, it rolls off my back,” Brown says. “When you go through what I’ve gone through, and what people like me have gone through in their lives, you recognize what’s important.”
Brown rebounded from a lot of childhood pain, and he’s also made a career out of comebacks in politics.
In January 2010, he overcame a 31-point deficit in the polls to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley and win the special election to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Now, Brown, 52, a lawyer, is looking to pull off another surprise in his re-election bid.
As a Republican in Massachusetts, Brown calls himself the underdog in his reelection contest against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, 62. Warren is a Harvard law professor and former adviser to President Barack Obama who helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Brown said he is working to be a bipartisan voice in Washington. He said he is probably the most bipartisan member of the state’s congressional delegation.
His approach paid off last month when Obama stopped next to Brown after the president’s “State of the Union” speech and the two agreed to work together on Brown’s bill to ban members and employees of Congress and the executive branch from insider trading. The bill has since been approved in the US House and Senate and the two branches are now resolving minor differences.
In his autobiography, “Against All Odds,” Brown writes about an itinerant childhood marred by violence, destitution and abandonment. He said he expected the book, published in 2011, might shatter some assumptions about him.
“I think people know me through the book more,” Brown said during an interview in late December at Mul’s Diner in South Boston. “A lot of the distortions and misrepresentations are over. That’s one of the reasons I was thankful that it came out. People have an assumption about who I am, what I am and what makes me tick and they couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ll let it speak for itself.”
In the book, which made it to the fourth spot on the New York Times’ best-seller list, Brown wrote about a dark past at a Christian camp on Cape Cod. Brown wrote that he had been molested by a male counselor who followed him into a bathroom while he was attending the camp after the fourth-grade.
Brown’s reporting on the assault inspired other people to step forward and allege they had been victims of sexual assault by staff many years ago at the camp. At least two have filed civil lawsuits against the camp, Camp Good News, located in Sandwich. Brown did not name the camp, but the camp later wrote a letter of apology to him after the book’s release.
“I felt it was important to let people know where I’ve come from and the challenges I’ve gone through,” Brown said when asked why he brought up the sexual abuse. “I wanted to write a good book. I felt if I had an opportunity to speak out, it would maybe help others speak out. As evidenced by what has happened, it’s helped quite a few people and I’m thankful for that.”
Carmen L. Durso, a lawyer in Boston for two people who filed a lawsuit against the camp alleging they were sexually abused by a counselor and for a third client with comparable allegations, and Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer, both say Brown showed a lot of courage in writing about the charges.
“Sen. Brown’s coming forward has empowered victims and made the world a better place for children,” said Garabedian, who represents eight people with similar allegations against the camp.
Brown’s parents, Judith A. Brown and C. Bruce Brown, a former city councilor in Newburyport, were married and divorced four times and three times each, respectively, the book said. His father left when he was about a year old. His mother struggled with waitress jobs, episodic bouts of binge drinking and domestic violence.
Brown writes that by the time he was 18, he had moved 17 times and lived in a dozen rental homes in communities ringing Boston, including Revere, Wakefield and Malden.
His mother was the daughter of a financially-secure, MIT-educated, electrical engineer for Boston Edison, but she got into some bad marriages.
His first step-father was a beer-drinking, oil truck driver who was so mean that he swiped Brown’s pet kitten off a couch, fatally wounding it. Brown writes that he was just 6 when he awoke one night to shouts, banging and the sight of this step-father repeatedly punching his sobbing mother in their Revere apartment.
“I dived down,” Brown wrote. “His legs were hard and strong, but I grabbed on with both arms and then I opened my mouth and I bit him. I bit him right through his pants as hard as I could. I was like a pit bull and would not let go.”
The family brawl ended when the police arrived. A few months later, the step-father vanished without ever getting to know his infant daughter, Leeann, the only other child of Brown’s mother.
Brown’s second step-father was a bartender who often was absent from their Malden home, leaving the 7-year-old Brown to hang around with older boys.
Brown escaped from a frightening jam one day when a teenage boy lured him into the woods and attempted to force him to perform a sex act at knife point. When the attacker closed his eyes, Brown smashed him in the face with a rock and fled, leaving the older boy howling in pain.
In his book, Brown also wrote about how his wife of 25 years, Gail Huff, faced her own challenges. Huff’s parents divorced and moved out of their house when she was 17, leaving Huff and her sisters behind to basically finish raising themselves, Brown wrote.
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This story first ran in the Republican on February 19, 2012.