On a late summer's evening in 1985, she called the National Rifle Association headquarters and left a blunt message: "My name is Sarah Brady, and you've never heard of me, but I am going to make it my life's ambition to try to put you all out of business."

With that call, Brady started down a road that would make her the public face of gun-control activism for a generation. Brady, 73, died Friday at a retirement community in Alexandria, Virginia. She had pneumonia, a family spokeswoman, Gail Hoffman, said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Her husband, James Brady, was Ronald Reagan's press secretary and was left paralyzed during an assassination attempt on the president in 1981. She was left to care for her husband through his convalescence. He died Aug. 4 at age 73.

PhotosRecent notable deaths See alsoSee more LI, U.S. obits

But the turning point for her activism came four years after the shooting, when their 6-year-old son, Scott, found what he thought was a toy gun and pointed it at her. She told him never to point a gun at anyone and, when he handed it to her, she found to her horror that it was a fully loaded .22 similar to the one used to shoot her husband.

"The maddest I've ever been in my life," she told The Washington Post of the gun incident with her son. "I was livid." Brady grew into a determined foe of the NRA, one of most powerful lobbying organizations in the country.

A lifelong Republican, Brady reached out to a small organization, Handgun Control Inc., now the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and joined its efforts by lobbying and writing letters to members of Congress. She was behind the gun-control legislation known as the Brady Bill, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and her pointed language and GOP background lent greater credibility to the cause.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Survivors include a son, James "Scott" Brady Jr. of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; a stepdaughter, Melissa Brady Camins of Woody Creek, Colorado; and a brother, William Kemp of Arlington, Virginia.