Dan Markel, My Friend
Dan Markel had many friends. You, the reader, know that if you have been surfing the law professor blogosphere, which is full of tributes, notes of gratitude and sadness, and a residue of shock and disbelief. Indeed, Dan Markel knew more legal academics – by which I mean he had more meaningful conversations and was actually friends with more people – than anyone in the country. Everyone knew him or had a story about him. Even in conversations he wasn’t a part of, at conferences he’d never attended, he was a common point of reference. He was our Kevin Bacon.
I’ve been friends with Dan since law school. He gave me comments on my first paper. They were tough (“why are you writing a 25 page literature review that no one, including you, will care to read”) but right. And he gave me tough comments on my second paper. Again, he was right. And my third paper. And my fourth. He didn’t stop when it became obvious that he was also giving hours of time weekly to literally dozens of other people’s work, when he was blessed with two young sons, when he built an active intellectual life at FSU, when he undertook a brutal travel schedule. He gave of himself despite writing scores of articles (and books and op-eds and drafts and more articles) of his own. His unselfishness and rigor were daunting. Where did he find the time? The energy?
But I couldn’t help but keep asking for his help, because no one gave comments like Dan Markel. He wanted to get your arguments right – and he wanted you to write the best version of yourself possible. On the Prawfs thread, I laughed to read a comment that someone can’t help but remember him asking if she had written a “puzzle paper or a problem paper.” Take heart! He thought the third option was not worth your effort. Dan never let you be lazy, and he was a celebrant when you hit a home run. Or even a double. And getting comments from Dan meant giving comments to Dan, which usually involved reading long articles with surprising payoffs, or getting an email and reading just a few pages where Dan had cited your work and wanted to be sure he’d done it justice. Dan attacked his own work like he worked on yours — unsentimentally, methodically, tirelessly, approaching greatness.
Dan reached out constantly. As I wrote on twitter (which he hated and which he told me I was wasting my time on), in the 17th century, he’d have been Pepys. In the 19th century, he’d have been a famous letter writer (and romantic poet!) In the 20th century, he’d have spent most of his income on long-distance phone calls. As it was, I -and many others-got regular calls from him, resulting in a conversation on one of his long walks, or on the way to pick up his boys from day care, or just on a drive. In each of those conversations he was open & seemingly without that part of our brains which says “don’t say that, it could be embarrassing; don’t admit that, I might make myself vulnerable.” He was wide open. In the last few years, he shared good and bad news alike, and there were times when he was so raw it hurt to listen to him. But those conversations were never monologues – even in the worst of times, Dan always asked about my family. He always strove to be a mensch.
Dan was a person of enormous seriousness and integrity, who cared deeply for his children and his friends. He was a world-builder without an obvious ideological agenda, unique among the hundreds of professors I’ve met in a decade of teaching. I’m so sorry he was taken from us so soon. And I’m so angry that that he died in a way so antithetical to the humane, intellectual, sensitive way that he lived.