The Magazine

Dean Barnett, 1967-2008

Nov 17, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 09
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Courage, Aristotle says somewhere, is the first of the virtues, because courage makes the other virtues possible. Our friend and colleague Dean Barnett was brave. He was brave to a degree that perhaps only his beloved wife, Kirstan, and others in his immediate family were able to appreciate.

Dean rarely talked to his friends about what he had done over the years--or what he had to do every day--to overcome his cystic fibrosis, diagnosed in infancy. But overcome it he did. Until it finally cut his life short. Still, as Nancy Zimmerman, one of Dean's friends, put it in an email a few hours after his death on October 27, "More life in 41 years than five people cram in 80."

Now, courage is a stern virtue--and those who have courage are usually sober and serious. Dean, though, was effervescently witty and high-spirited. He had a most unusual combination of strength of character and lightness of heart.

And he had great generosity of spirit. Dean befriended, promoted, and helped lots of people without talking about it or taking credit. Dean wasn't a softy--he had been a legal headhunter, and he had good judgment about people. But he was a remarkably good-natured and kind man--not qualities that always go with being very smart, which he also was. And there was nothing petty about him.

All of us at THE WEEKLY STANDARD have been amazed by the tributes to Dean that have come flowing in. Dean affected not just those who knew him personally, but also many who corresponded with him but never met him, and many who simply knew him from reading his work. He touched an awful lot of people, of all ages and types, and touched them deeply. Some he taught about politics, some about the Red Sox or golf courses or HBO series, some about how to write and think--and some about life.

Those of us who were fortunate to have been his friends--and how we wish we could have been his friends for many more years!--will always have the satisfaction of remembering him vividly, as he was in person. It was a privilege to see up close Dean's wit, and his courage, and his character. As Richard Starr put it,

Of the writers I have worked with over the years, none was sweeter, more cheerful, and less self-pitying than Dean. Like his other friends and correspondents, I cherished his emails and phone calls--among other reasons because they always lightened the day's load, rather than adding to it.

One of the many, many emails I received after Dean's death was from our friend Tom Cotton, who recently deployed to Afghanistan. He wrote:

I learned about Dean's death early this morning (local time) before going on my first really long patrol here. We drove about eight hours round trip, so I had lots of time to think. Like you, what struck me most about Dean was his remarkable courage in the face of his disease. Dean had the heart of a lion, as brave as any soldier I've known. And there was his generosity. I first started reading Dean's writing while in Iraq and he always returned my emails quickly. When I got back stateside, he went out of his way to meet me when I visited Boston and always made time for a phone call. Like so many, I was lucky and honored to call Dean my friend. I will miss him dearly.

I too will miss him dearly. I already do.

A couple of years ago, Dean commented:

When you see death up close, a couple of things become clear. One is that we all die, and that death is just part of the deal. The other is that life is such a blessing, that it's just so great, even though you know the inevitable might be near you still want as many bites of the apple as possible.

None of us knows what the future of the salt water treatment might be. .  .  . The good times could continue for years, or it could all crash tomorrow. But regardless, this treatment has given me time--time to spend with my wife and family and friends. Time to hit golf balls (usually sideways, but even that's all right). Time to chase my dogs around the house. Time that frankly I didn't expect to have. There could be no greater gift, and it's a miracle in so many ways.

Dean's life was a miracle in so many ways. We at THE WEEKLY STANDARD mourn his loss but cherish his memory--and his life--as a blessing.

--WILLIAM KRISTOL


EDITOR'S NOTE: After Dean Barnett's death on October 27, dozens of people who had come to know him through his writing for this magazine and elsewhere, and in his earlier career as a Boston-based businessman, wrote memorials, a small selection of which we excerpt below.