Fall 2021 Issue

Semper Fi

Former walk-on Tim Brady ’97 rises in the ranks of the U.S. Marine Corps

By Dave Johnson

As a walk-on football player at William & Mary, Tim Brady ’97 was guaranteed nothing more than an opportunity. His biggest contribution in four years came on the scout team, which he eventually led.

There was also the academic side, never an easy opponent at this Public Ivy. Time demands were constant and excuses — “I had a paper due, Coach” or “I was too sore from practice, Professor” — were not an option.

These days, as a colonel in the United States Marine Corps, the sacrifices made and consequences faced are more serious. Yet looking back, Brady believes his overall experience at William & Mary further developed his discipline and shaped him as a leader.

“I’m not the smartest tactician, and although I’m in pretty good shape these days, I’m not the fastest or strongest,” he says. “But I try to develop my leadership skills in ways that provide me an opportunity to serve. That started to develop in my later years at William & Mary when I was on the scout team.

“But as you progress up the ranks, you’re not getting paid for your physical attributes as much as for your intellectual capacity. That developed from the academic rigors at William & Mary and being able to balance being a student and an athlete.”

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised mostly in Northern Virginia, Brady was a linebacker at William & Mary from 1993 to 1996. In terms of getting on the field, his timing couldn’t have been worse. The Tribe’s defenses in ’94, ’95 and ’96 remain among the top 10 by statistics in program history. And his position was stacked.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Brady’s wife, Ellen Eaves Brady ’97, was also a student-athlete at William & Mary. They married as soon as he finished his Infantry Officer Course at Quantico. Left photo: Chad J. McNeeley; Right photo: Cpl. Juan Carpanzano

Brady played 32 games and made 29 tackles. He was twice named special teams player of the week. Sean McDermott ’98, who came in the same year as Brady, remembers him as an excellent teammate.

“I’m a disciplined person, and I saw a lot of similarities between him and me,” says McDermott, now head coach of the Buffalo Bills. “The structure with which he lived his life was evident from day one. And the field of work he went into was certainly no surprise.

“He’s always been a focused person with a core set of priorities and values. I’m proud to say he’s serving our country. The military doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.”

Brady grew up in a military family. His father, Tim Brady Sr., was a Navy captain (O-6) — the equivalent of a colonel in other branches, including the Marines.

The Bradys moved around some in Tim’s early years before settling in Northern Virginia in 1981, when he was entering the first grade. In ’87, his father retired from the Navy after 25 years of service.

“I think the idea of service was instilled upon me at a young age,” Brady says. “I would say in the late high school years is when I decided that if I wanted to serve my country, becoming an officer in the Marine Corps is what I wanted to do. This offered the greatest challenge.”

College would come first, and Brady chose William & Mary. He had the academic record for admission but wasn’t good enough for a football scholarship. So he dedicated himself to the scout team, which meant learning each opponent’s defense and mimicking it during practice to prepare the Tribe’s offense.

“I took a lot of pride in that,” Brady says. “Some people might have been upset about it, but I considered it a great opportunity to contribute to the team in a different way.”

Jimmye Laycock ’70, W&M’s head coach from 1980 to 2018, respected how Brady approached his role.

“He was the leader of the scout team,” Laycock says. “He would get the guys together, and his example would help others.

“You have to admire guys like that who would do whatever it takes to help the team. He really recognized that what he did helped us become a better football team.”

In Brady’s four years on the roster, William & Mary went 34-13 with one conference championship and two NCAA playoff appearances. It remains the best four-year run in the program’s 127-year history.

In Brady’s freshman year, he met a fellow student-athlete and kinesiology major from South Carolina named Ellen Eaves. A Tribe gymnast who qualified for the NCAA Regionals as a freshman, Ellen already knew a little about Tim.

“They used to send these booklets to freshmen called the ‘Green and Gold,’” says Ellen, who, like Tim, graduated in ’97. “It had everybody in your class, and I was thumbing through it and saw this guy and said, ‘He’s really cute.’

“It was Tim. So I kind of picked him out before I even met him.”

They began dating as sophomores. They were hooked.

On May 21, 1999, Brady graduated from the Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, which he describes as “cold, wet, miserable, hungry, tired, and physically and mentally challenging for 10 straight weeks.” That same day, he drove to Williamsburg for his rehearsal dinner.

INCOMING: Brady, the incoming commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, receives the unit colors from Lt. Col. Matthew W. Tracy (right), outgoing commanding officer, during a change of command ceremony at Dewey Square, July 31, 2015. Photo: Kristen Wong

The following day, a Saturday, he and Ellen were married. They returned to Northern Virginia on Sunday, packed up their car, and on Monday began their “honeymoon” — a 2,770-mile to Camp Pendleton on the Southern California coast.

“I told him, ‘We will go on a real honeymoon, right?’” Ellen says. “And we went to Tahiti a year later.”

Brady was on his first deployment in the Arabian Gulf when the USS Cole was attacked on Oct. 12, 2000. Within six hours, Lieutenant Brady, his personal weapon loaded with live ammunition and leading a platoon of Marines, was in a helicopter flying to secure a refueling ship as it pulled into port.

He was reunited with Ellen when his six-month deployment ended on Valentine’s Day 2001.

Then came Rota, Spain, where their first daughter, Eve, was born. But if you want a true military family story, that would be Lilly’s birth four years later. Tim was in Iraq, Ellen and Eve in Wilmington, North Carolina. He watched Lilly come into the world via Skype.

“Our Christmas card that year was of Ellen in the hospital bed holding Lilly with 4-year-old Eve behind her and my picture on the computer screen,” Brady says. “It was pretty funny.”

Next came the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he was a company officer. Laycock wrote his letter of recommendation. Brady earned his first of three master’s degrees as part of the leadership education development program at the University of Maryland.

After two years, he moved on to the Headquarters Marine Corps at the Pentagon. Then came Okinawa, Japan, Hawaii and, as Brady puts it, “all over the Pacific.”

Back stateside, Brady graduated from the prestigious National Defense University, National War College in 2018. He then worked in current operations for the Joint Staff in Washington, D.C.

“There was always something going in the globe,” he says.

Then came the eye-popper: In 2019, Rear Adm. George Wikoff nominated Brady to be deputy executive assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“He said, ‘Go home and talk to Ellen about it because this is a job that is going to tax you day in and day out,’” Brady recalls.

Brady was hired by the incoming chairman, Gen. Mark Milley. He became one member in a small group of Milley’s inner circle.

“It was an incredible experience and a fascinating year,” Brady says. “It was also very demanding.”

He then worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon for a year. Then, on June 25, 2021, he was named Commanding Officer 3rd Marine Regiment, which he says is the greatest accomplishment of his career.

“As an infantry officer, I’m coming back to an infantry regiment,” says Brady, who is now based in Hawaii. “But this infantry regiment is re-designating to a first-of-its-kind Marine Littoral Regiment as part of the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030.

“It’s about keeping up with and maintaining overmatch of our pacing threats. The Marine Corps has always been one to not train and equip for the war we fought last but to prepare ourselves for the next war we may fight in the future.”

Nearly a quarter of a century after graduation, Tim and Ellen Brady — though 5,000 miles and six time zones from Williamsburg — remain Green and Gold.

It’s where they met and fell in love. It’s where they were collegiate athletes and earned their degrees from one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. And it’s where their shared path was paved.

“We absolutely love William & Mary,” Tim Brady says. “We found each other there. And what the college provided for us, both in terms of education and the intangibles, has served us well throughout life.”