But ever since that luncheon in 1998, she’s been afraid to speak in public. If she has to — and usually, when Bob asks her to say a few words, she answers, flatly, “no” — her palms sweat. Once, she lost her voice.
“I don’t want to misstep or misrepresent him in any way,” she says.
Bob (who notoriously once told council members, “You are a fuckin’ embarrassment!”) assures his wife she can do no harm: “I tell her, ‘You can’t hurt me more than I can hurt myself. Just make sure your clothes match, and you’ll be fine.’”
But she knows better.
THE STORY OF HOW DEB AND BOB FIRST MET, of how they got to know each other, of how they became a couple and got married is in many ways about as Philly a story as you can get. Deb grew up in the city’s 34th ward, in a family that cared about politics. Her dad, Phil, held a government job: He was postmaster of Upper Darby. Her mother would’ve been a committeewoman if she hadn’t been so busy running the family’s corner grocery store, where Deb would go after girls-only Merion Mercy Academy to slice lunchmeat and man the register.
“Everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood,” she says.
Right after Deb turned 18 in 1974, there was an election — “For president? Dog-catcher? I don’t remember,” she says. “I was so excited!” — and her mom walked her over to the polling place.
“Now listen,” her mom instructed. “I’m going to introduce you to a person. His name is Bob Brady. Whatever he tells you to do, you do.”
Back then, Bob was just starting out in politics, the sergeant-at-arms for City Council president George Schwartz, doing his Election Day duty in the neighborhood — and back then, as now, Philly politics was neighborhood politics, fueled by loyalty to the guy who watched over your block, reliant on long-standing relationships. And Deb’s mom had known Bob forever. He and his friends would come to the store every Saturday after playing basketball in the lot across the street. Deb never knew who was playing, only that the noise woke her up at 7 a.m.
“It used to” — and she whispers the next part — “piss … me … off.”
But there, on Election Day, as Bob explained how to fill out a ballot, Deb thought he was cute, “for an older guy.” To an 18-year-old, Bob was ancient — 29, married, with a three-year-old son and a newborn daughter. Deb was a kid who’d just started working as a clerk-typist at the RDA, the city department that relocates homes and businesses to make room for economy-boosting projects. After work, she’d take a bus up Broad for night school at Temple, where she was studying to be a court reporter.