I learned last night, from an e-mail sent by Walter Grinder, that John died earlier in the day yesterday. As I read Walter’s e-mail, a deep sadness descended upon me (as, I know, it descended upon many others) – sadness not only for John’s wife Christine and their two sons, Miles and James, but for John’s many friends who will never again enjoy his charm, good humor, and dry wit. And sadness, too, for the liberal cause. John was that rare person who combined extraordinary organizational, managerial, and fund-raising skills with a profound knowledge of – and devotion to the principles of – classical liberalism and libertarianism.
I first met John and Christine 30 years ago when I spent the summer of 1984 at the Institute for Humane Studies’s (IHS’s) headquarters in Menlo Park, CA. (Miles was, I think, then only 2; James wasn’t yet born.) John, Walter Grinder, and then-president Leonard Liggio were great leaders of IHS in those days.
Just over a year later, in August of 1985, IHS moved from Menlo Park to Fairfax, when it affiliated with George Mason University. August 1985 is also the month that George Selgin and I each launched our careers as assistant professors of economics at GMU. I recall vividly one late August evening, standing in the parking lot of Tallwood House on GMU’s Fairfax campus (the first GMU home for IHS), talking with John and George. A huge moving van was still in the lot. (I think that other people were there, too, but I don’t recall just who they were.) The conversation was interrupted by barrages of mosquitoes attacking through molasses-thick layers of sticky, muggy, humid air. Yet it was a joyful evening for me knowing that John and IHS were, along with George and I, joining the exciting goings-on centered around GMU Economics.
John is the person who introduced me to Deirdre McCloskey. McCloskey was visiting GMU (I think it was sometime in the Spring of 1986 – but perhaps 1987) and John invited George and me to join a small group for an IHS-sponsored dinner, at a local restaurant in Fairfax, with the great economic historian. We leapt at the invitation.
John later took the presidential reins at IHS, then at Atlas, and then – for 16 years – at the IEA in London.
He wrote several books, including the 2011 volume, Ladies for Liberty.
The loss of John is an especially difficult one.
UPDATE: David Hart sends a reminder that John wrote the lead essay for the November 2013 “Liberty Matters”.
2nd UPDATE: Dan Klein reminds me of this fine essay by John on Rose Friedman.
3rd UPDATE: David Henderson remembers John, and links again to John’s recent recollection of important Austrian economics conferences in the 1970s. (Do read John’s paper. Even if you couldn’t care less about the history of Austrian economics, the Sudha Shenoy – Gerry O’Driscoll story alone makes reading the paper well worth the effort. Also, I recall Roger Garrison in the early 1980s giving the same account of the rain on W.H. Hutt’s bed.)