Monday, February 3, 2014
My dear friend, mentor, and colleague John Gradwohl died yesterday. John, the Judge Harry A. Spence Professor of Law, taught on the faculty at the University of Nebraska College of Law for over 50 years. I don’t know what I will do without him around. I know few of you knew John, but it’s your misfortune that you didn’t.
When I came to Nebraska from Dallas 27 years ago, without a friend within 500 miles and without a clue about how to be a legal academic, John virtually adopted me and my family. We stayed at his house when we first visited Lincoln to look for a home. My wife, kids, and I attended family Christmas parties at his house. He took an active interest in my children as they grew up and became adults. The uniform reaction of my children when I told them yesterday that he had died was, “He was such a nice man.”
My office has been next to John’s since I arrived at Nebraska, and we were often in each other’s offices. John shared his knowledge freely and tried to keep me from making stupid academic mistakes. (My usual approach to academic discourse is “Ready, fire, aim.”) When I stubbornly ignored John’s advice and did something stupid anyway, he never said “I told you so.” (O.K., he did, but always in a sweet way.)
John was a very intelligent, perceptive man, an expert in labor arbitration, legislation, and tax law. He taught a very demanding, but well-liked legislation seminar. And, even though I’m a securities law expert, John and I often bounced ideas off each other. His advice improved my teaching and writing in countless ways.
But John’s academic side is not what I will remember most about him. I will never forget his sarcastic sense of humor, the mischievous look in his eyes when he had some law school gossip to share, and his willingness to identify bull**** for what it was. He even had a stamp that said bull**** on it; when a particularly egregious piece of nonsense came to him in the mail, he never hesitated to stamp it and return it to the sender. (John’s stamp had the full word spelled out; as I type, I can hear John chuckling about my unwillingness to use the full word bull**** in this post.)
John was like a father to me. When I came in this morning, it hurt inside to see the nameplate on his door, knowing that I would never share another conversation or joke with that wonderful man. I’ll miss you, John. The world will miss you.
[Update: Here is John's obituary.]