The meeting came at a sensitive time for the group, which has been a focus of criticism after a string of recent mass shootings, including one of the deadliest in the nation's history: the massacre in Las Vegas in which 58 people were killed.
"Discussing this with Wayne LaPierre", Brownell said in the letter, "he suggested we reach out to a warrior amongst our board members, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, to succeed me".
"Pete has served the NRA with great courage and distinction", LaPierre said.
North went on to become a bestselling author and now serves as a host on Fox News, a post from which he is expected to retire "effective immediately".
North, who was a National Security Council member during the Iran-Contra affair in the late 1980s, was convicted on three felony counts during the Reagan administration. Those convictions were overturned in 1991. He has since run for office, written several books and is frequently on the speaking circuit.
NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre called North "a true hero and warrior for freedom" and said the group's members "are proud to stand with him". Chuck Robb (D) - see below for Robb rip into North for being a "document-shredding, constitution-trashing, Commander-in-Chief bashing, Ayatollah-loving, arms-dealing, criminal-protecting, resume-enhancing, Noriega-coddling, Swiss-banking, law-breaking, letter-faking, self-serving, snake oil salesman who can't tell the difference between the truth and a lie".
Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of NY at Cortland and an expert on firearms and Second Amendment issues, called North the closest thing the NRA has to a celebrity. Heston was elected NRA president in 1998, and served an unprecedented five years in that position. He has most recently worked as a host on Fox News, a role from which he will be retiring "effective immediately" according to the release. In 2000, he sought to rally NRA supporters against Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, warning that Gore was going to "slander you as gun-toting, knuckle-dragging, bloodthirsty maniacs".
It was a time similar to today, an election following a high-profile mass shooting - the one at Columbine high school in 1999.