Carmela Brown walked into a summer-quiet cafeteria at the Iowa Capitol, and the only occupied table emptied as old acquaintances greeted her.
Not surprising, maybe, given that Brown has been a presence at the Statehouse for the last 50 years.
She is a person who has worked in the background on major legislation. You suspect that she would receive the same greeting in the halls of Congress, where she has spent more than a decade lobbying on health-care issues.
But to describe her as a lobbyist only would do a disservice to a woman who also is a pilot, political activist, former banker, health-care expert and, always, a steady hand in a combined family of six grown children and 14 grandchildren.
Brown is accustomed to working across the political aisle and with some of Greater Des Moines’ heavy hitters – Roxanne Conlin, Jerry Crawford, U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin, and the late John Fitzgibbon. And did we point out that Brown, a firm Democrat, is married to commercial real estate broker and Urbandale City Councilman Mike Carver, a committed Republican?
“I have watched as she transformed herself from political activist to bank manager to health-care expert. … Cookie is intelligent and charming, bringing her sense of humor to every task,” Conlin wrote in a letter.
Conlin and Brown’s friendship goes back many years, to a time when Brown was known to many people as Cookie, a nickname she picked up in infancy and carried with her until 1974, when she was a bank manager working for Fitzgibbon, who suggested she drop the name if she wanted to make loans at one of his banks.
The business and political worlds have taken her seriously. She is a member of the Iowa Finance Authority and Shazam Inc. boards. A partial list of committees and boards on which she has served includes the Catholic Health Association, American Hospital Association, Association of Iowa Hospitals and Health Systems, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the state banking council, AIB College of Business, the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce Federation and the Greater Des Moines Partnership.
Brown was state treasurer for the Iowa Democratic Party and served on the Polk County Charter Commission for the reform of county government.
“As a father of two daughters, I cannot think of a better role model for them and our other future women leaders to emulate,” said Jerry Crawford, who first met Brown when they worked together at the Iowa Statehouse in the 1960s.
Brown said she became interested in politics when she attended a leadership camp while a senior at St. Joseph’s Academy and realized that she could make a difference for women and children.
In that vein, she has achieved a lot and rarely stood in the spotlight.
“Wonderful things happen when nobody cares who gets the credit,” Brown said. “Working as a team is the best way to get things done. I don’t like to take credit for things that I couldn’t have gotten done on my own.”