The Blog

What a Man

12:00 AM, Oct 28, 2008 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Aristotle says somewhere that courage is the first of the virtues, because it makes the other virtues possible. Dean Barnett 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 about what he had done over the years to overcome his disease, and what he had to do every day to overcome it. But overcome it he did--until it finally cut his life short. Too short. But, as one of Dean's friends put it, "More life in 41 years than 5 people cram in 80."

Courage is a severe virtue, and those who have courage are usually serious, often stern. Dean, though, was effervescently witty and high-spirited. He had a most unusual combination of strength of character and lightness of heart. And generosity of spirit. I've heard tonight from several people whom Dean had befriended, promoted, and helped. He did so without talking about it or taking credit. Dean wasn't a softy--he had been a headhunter, and he had good judgment about people--but he was kind and good-natured. And there was nothing petty about him.

In the hospital the final three weeks, the staff grew very attached to Dean. They were apparently amazed at how incredibly tough he was in battling for life. Unfortunately, as Kirstan pointed out, they were entirely unacquainted with what she called Dean's most charming quality, his crackling wit. 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 have the blessing of always remembering his wit, and his courage, and his character.

I'm struck, reading some of the tributes to Dean tonight, how much he affected not only those who knew him personally, but also many who had corresponded with him, and many who simply knew him through reading him. He touched an awful lot of people, of all ages and types, and touched them deeply. Some he taught about politics, some about sports, some about how to write and think--and some about life.

One friend of Dean's, a man of great worldly experience not much given to superlatives, e-mailed tonight: "What a terrific guy--the best." Dean was the best.