I hired Bre Payton right out of college. She was green. She was unknown. She had never done TV. But she had worked through her last year of college, and I respected that. I interviewed a half-dozen people for the position. We met in the coffee shop I liked that had no seats, so we were by ourselves in crappy plastic chairs in the back.
From the moment we started talking I realized she was a potential star. She was raw, yes, but that could be honed. She was eager to learn, to write, and to go places—not because of ambition, but because she wanted to change the world. She was confident. She was sarcastic. She was cutting. But she was also sweet.
I’ll save the more personal stuff for when there’s a memorial for Bre in DC. But for now I’ll share the professional stuff. Bre Payton was one of the hardest-working young women I have ever met. She seized on things. Volunteered. Noticed the details. Never avoided an uncomfortable confrontation. She was self-deprecating on occasion, but never hesitant. The daughter of a manufacturer from California, she had the California girl accent and the occasional space cadet air, but the rest of her was all confidence.
Looking back at her texts, it took her almost a year to say, “I think I finally had a good hit.” It was less than a year later that she told another friend that being on TV is easy. “Just imagine you’re Beyonce.”
Bre was beautiful inside and out. She was distractingly beautiful for the men of Washington D.C.—Mark Hemingway recounted an experience yesterday of watching multiple conservative men wrench their necks to watch her walk past at CPAC. As in most cases, that meant everyone underestimated her. She was smarter than all of them, she would outwork them and outresearch them and outreport them, and that’s what made her great at her job.
What made her great at life was how much she, in a spirit motivated by her deep and abiding faith, loved everyone around her. The Federalist is a small staff, and our close-knit family of senior contributors outwork our competition because of that closeness. She was so compassionate with them in ways that showed how much she genuinely cared about other people.
She sent them motivational gifts during chemo. She reached out to help the people she barely knew with help on job searches. This was not to advance herself. It was because this was who she was.
When we hired and promoted Bre, it wasn’t about proving a point. But there was a point to it, consistent with everything we do at The Federalist. It’s that for too long, women in most of center-right media were relegated to the lower positions, expected to be the secretaries and research assistants who write the occasional book review.
We don’t seek to hire women—we seek to hire who’s best for the job. That turned out to be a number of women with great pens and humor and wit. I didn’t hire Bre to become another token woman. I hired her to eventually take jobs like mine, because she earned it.
I was a mentor for Bre as best as I could be, driving her to strive to achieve the things she hadn’t done yet. But she had that gene, too. She recruited our interns and managed them like a pro. She always made time for the aspiring younger journalists who looked up to her. She reached out with a genuine heart to those she thought needed it.
She was a source of constant encouragement and always cared about others first. Our last text thread was her guiding me through which medications to take and avoid given a similar pneumonia diagnosis and similar allergies. She didn’t have to do that. That’s just who she was.
Bre Payton lived life as if she was always ready to leave it. And she did, too early for all of the rest of us, at the age of 26. At 26, I barely knew who I was. I wish I knew the person she would’ve become. For now, it has to suffice that I knew the person she was.
I spent most of yesterday on the phone with all the people whose lives Bre touched. It is such a testament to this funny, hard-working, charismatic young woman that by the age of 26, she had managed to touch so many varied lives with the joy she brought to her passions, to her work, and to her life.
So that is why today, for all of us at The Federalist, I can say: whatever the number of our days on this good earth, there will not be one when we do not miss her.