Hilltop Views

Former White House staffer, SEU alumnus Brandon Lepow dies of Leukemia

Amanda Gonzalez

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Updated from Oct. 13.

Who could ever forget the student who convinced a first-year professor to allow a large wolf to be brought to class as a visual presentation?

The class had to complete a serving learning project on a charity of their choosing. Together they selected the Chisholm Wolves Foundation, Inc., and he organized to bring a live wolf for the grand finale.

While he gave the class presentation, “the whole time, I was sitting there praying a rosary,” Associate Professor of Communications Stephanie Martínez says. Although nothing went wrong, “I haven’t even let anyone bring a puppy to my class after that event.”

The student is St. Edward’s University alumus and former White House staffer Brandon Lepow who died Oct. 12 after a two-year battle with leukemia.

“To know Brandon Lepow was to know that he didn’t need to get into politics to change the world, after all,” President Barack Obama said in an official written statement. “He made his thirty-two years count. And those who knew him are better for it.”

Upon his arrival at St. Edward’s, he considered playing basketball, but decided to focus on his studies. Still highly involved, Lepow was a student manager for the university men’s basketball team his senior year where he assisted in administrative duties and had some coaching responsibilities as well.

“I remember when I came to St. Edward’s, from a basketball perspective, the team had had a few years where they were not having a lot of success, as far as winning teams,” former SEU basketball Head Coach Ryan Marks said. While expressing his reasons for wanting to be a manager, Lepow said to Marks, “‘Coach, I just know the team is going to be successful, and I want to be a part of it.'”

“Not to say that I wasn’t an optimistic coach, but … when he left my office I was a little taken aback. His positiveness about the team doing well didn’t seem naive. He seemed sincerely convinced that we were going to do well … probably more convinced than I was,” Marks adds. The Hilltoppers went on to win the Heartland Conference title that season.

“One of my favorite memories of him is he is the only person in my 12 years of teaching that wore his cap and gown to his final exam. And he took all his finals in his cap and gown, which I thought was really funny,” Martínez says.

Lepow graduated summa cum laude in 2005 with a bachelor’s in communications.

After graduation, Lepow began working as a campaign staffer for the Obama campaign, and worked his way up to serving as the President’s Regional Communications Director. 

“There was a time a couple years later when he had started with the Obama campaign, … and in a sort of like upbeat way, he kind of laid out to me why he thought that President Obama could eventually win,” Marks said. “It was the same energy, voice, tone that he had when he told me that our team was going to win.”

Each year when Lepow was in Austin, he would warmly visit familiar faces at St. Edward’s, and present about his career to classes if asked.

“Nine years later, we were having this conversation about [the wolf],” Martínez adds. After working for President Obama and being on an advanced team as someone who assesses critical situations, “He said, ‘yeah, no, that was a horrible idea. I can’t believe you let us do that.’”

In November of 2011, Lepow arranged a West Wing tour of the White House for visiting students from the Hilltop Leadership Development organization.

“Brandon was kind enough to give us a tour of the West Wing of the White House. As part of Hilltop Leaders, I got to see the Situation Room and the Oval Office. While we were with him, he was so kind and willing to share whatever information he could to help us be successful,” senior Raneem Ashrawi says. “He talked about his involvement at St. Edward’s and told us about his journey to his job with the Obama administration. My favorite story that he told was about how he would play basketball with President Obama.”

“He was definitely the epitome of what we think of as a St. Edward’s student – just golden, absolutely golden,” SEU Vice President for Student Affairs Lisa Kirkpatrick said.

From his former colleagues at the White House, to the St. Edward’s community, Lepow will be missed by many. He is survived by his wife Theresa, and his parents, Cindy Schmerin and Kenny Lepow.


Original article from Oct. 13.

St. Edward’s University alumnus Brandon Lepow died on Monday after battling leukemia for two years. Lepow was a former campaign and White House staffer for President Barack Obama since 2008.

Lepow graduated summa cum laude in 2005 with a bachelor’s in communications.

“To know Brandon Lepow was to know that he didn’t need to get into politics to change the world, after all,” Obama said in a written statement. “He made his thirty-two years count.  And those of us who knew him are better for it.”

Lepow was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in Sept. 2013, shortly after he left the White House. This summer as Lepow underwent treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, more than 50 White House colleagues traveled to visit him.

“When Brandon was a student [at St. Edward’s], everybody loved him. He was a really hard worker and was always involved in a lot of different things,” SEU Vice President for Student Affairs Lisa Kirkpatrick said. “He was definitely the epitome of what we think of as a St. Edward’s student – just golden, absolutely golden.”

While at St. Edward’s, Lepow was a manager for the men’s basketball team.

“When I first got to St. Ed’s, I was helping coach the team and he was the manager… I played on an intramural team with him for a little while after he graduated,” Psychology professor and Faculty Athletic Representative Russell Frohardt said. “He was just a genuinely happy guy that laughed all the time and made everyone else happier. It just seems unfair.”

“One of my favorite memories of him is he is the only person in my 12 years of teaching that wore his cap and gown to his final exam. And he took all his finals in his cap and gown, which I thought was really funny,” Associate Professor of Communications Stephanie Martinez said.

Each year when Lepow was in Austin, he would present to Martinez’s classes and “tell them his stories about working in the White House” and about “life outside of college.” Martinez also mentioned that he tried to have Obama visit St. Edward’s instead of the University of Texas at one point. “He was very inspiring to our students. He was definitely about making connections, and helping and giving back.”

In November of 2011, Lepow arranged a West Wing tour of the White House for visiting students from the Hilltop Leadership Development organization.

At today’s daily White House briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest was emotional while talking about Lepow.

“I’ve been thinking about Brandon’s family, and particularly his parents as they mourn the loss of their son,” he said. “But as a relatively new father myself, I’ve also been thinking about the kind of man that I want my son to grow up to be, and Brandon’s courage in confronting tough challenges, his selflessness and humility in interacting both with those he loved and those he barely knew, and his passion for what he believed in makes him a genuine role model.”

He is survived by his wife, Theresa, and his parents, Cindy Schmerin and Kenny Lepow.

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Former White House staffer, SEU alumnus Brandon Lepow dies of Leukemia