I received an email from my law school this evening reporting that my old contracts and commercial paper professor had just died. In an irony too strong to ignore, this email was initially sorted by my spam filter into my junk mail folder, where everything from this particular academic institution lands.
Professor Farnsworth performed what may have been the only act of kindness toward me that I experienced in three years of law school by writing a fine letter of recommendation for my judicial clerkship applications. The rest, as they say, is history. Without that single act of kindness, leading to my clerkship, who knows where I'd be?
Amazingly enough, he was on the faculty for fifty years, and was full-time faculty up to the day he died. He still had the same secretary that he did in 1981. I am sorry to report that my generation of students regarded him as a pompous jerk. As one of his squadron of research assistants I got to know him better than I did my other professors; he was quite funny in private, but I accepted more or less the popular belief that he was, in public, a stuffed shirt. It is only as I look at his list of credentials, and reflect on his demeanor, that looking back I regard him as simply assured, rather than pompous. I misjudged him owing to my own lack of experience at the time. He saw me far more clearly than I saw him.
The moral of this story? Look back sooner.