I'm as shocked as everyone else to hear about the death of Andrew Breitbart this morning. I didn't know Breitbart well, but I knew him well enough to like him a great deal.

I first met Breitbart back in the late ’90s. I had just graduated from college and started working at THE WEEKLY STANDARD, and my first grown-up trip was to fly out to Los Angeles for a long weekend. I had a touristy list of things to see and do—get a drink at the Brown Derby, play basketball at the court next to Muscle Beach in Venice. High on this list was meeting Arianna Huffington.

We had, technically, met a month or so before, at which time she politely said that if I was ever in Los Angeles I should drop her a line. So the day I touched down, I rang her and, to my slack-jawed amazement, she invited me over to her house.

My afternoon at the Huffington manse in Brentwood was, at least for my 22-year-old self, full of wonderment. She poured me a glass of wine as we sat and had a visit in her living room. She introduced me to her very sweet, very Greek mother. And then she took me upstairs to her library toward the back of the house. Tucked away in a little room off of the library’s second floor—it struck me at the time as being like a secret passage in the Bat Cave—was her guy Friday, Andrew Breitbart.

Arianna introduced us, and I liked him immediately. He was gregarious and smart. We were interested in a lot of the same things—politics, movies, and technology. We started gabbing about BBS boards and usenet groups and the Clinton scandals. The next day we met for lunch and sat together for close to three hours. I wanted to know all about his glamorous life in L.A.; he wanted to know about life in Washington. I’ll never forget how animated he got when he told me how lucky I was to live in a town where not only could you talk politics with just about anyone, but you could even talk conservative politics with most people. “I’m starved for that out here,” he said, “because everyone is liberal. There is, literally, no one I can talk with about this stuff.”

Breitbart had a peripatetic mind—lots of ideas, most of them big, some of them very, very good. (I remember one conversation with him, about ten years ago, where he spun out, at length, a concept for a micro-blogging service that I told him was crazy. In nearly every particular, he conceived of Twitter four years before Twitter was invented.)

Even as Arianna was transitioning away from conservatism, Breitbart began to pilot his own ship. He became Matt Drudge’s wingman and wrote one of the rare Conservative Books that’s worth reading. And finally, he started his own business, launching Breitbart.com and the Big conservative sites, which made him 1) really famous, 2) a giant star in the conservative movement, 3) high on the left’s Public Enemies list. I honestly couldn’t guess which of these pleased him most.

We hadn’t talked in a couple of years, but Breitbart’s success gave me genuine pleasure. Because he deserved it. Because he earned it. Because it’s rare when one of the good guys wins.

The last time I saw him was at the 2011 CPAC conference. I was meeting a friend for an afternoon coffee upstairs at the Marriott Wardman Park and Andrew was in a corner of the restaurant, in animated discussion with probably a dozen people. I didn’t stop over to say hello—there’s a lesson. But I smiled as I watched him holding court, and remembered what he had said at our first lunch together.

And I’m smiling today at my luck to have met him that first time, as he stuck his head out of the secret passage in the Bat Cave.

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