Monday, July 16, 2018
Had I not been taking pictures on the beach during a morning walk with dear college friends on the New England shoreline, I would not have seen the incoming call on my silenced cell phone--a call from a business law colleague from UT Law that I figured I ought to answer. But the call was not, as I expected, a request for help with a research or teaching question. Instead, this colleague was calling to inform me of an email message from our Dean letting us know that our junior business law colleague, Jonathan Rohr, had died the day before. (I am linking here to a YouTube video featuring Jonathan, which will tell you much more about the man that he was than any CV or website.)
Jonathan came into my life almost two years ago when he interviewed with UT Law for a permanent, tenure track position after VAP-ing at his law alma mater, Cardozo. From the start, Jonathan impressed me and others on the Appointments Committee with his intellect, his enthusiasm for the faculty task, and his intensity. He survived the appointments tournament and came to work with us last summer. Before his untimely death, he already had been invited to comment on a paper at last year's AALS annual meeting and had symposium and virtual symposium invitations--as a first-year tenure-track colleague. His scholarship was thoughtful and lucidly written. He worked hard to make every piece better and better and better through editing. He was a popular and revered teacher. He was contributing to our College of Law community in significant ways. I could not have been prouder to have him as a colleague and tried to introduce him to everyone imaginable to get his permanent teaching career off to the right start.
I think it's fair to say that no one was more excited for Jonathan's arrival at UT Law than I. He was what my dear husband calls a "Mini-Me"--someone at the early stages of a career trajectory with a similar professional background who aspires to similar career goals and seeks to be mentored by me along the way. Most of the Mini-Mes that I have worked with were and are law practice colleagues and students. Jonathan was my first faculty Mini-Me. I had plans for our ongoing work together. I think he had plans of that kind, too. We had started working in a number of areas informally. We drank beer and discussed strategies for research, teaching, tenure, promotion, etc. The one academic year that we had together was idyllic in so many ways--too good to be true, for me, as I often observed. Our last conversation about his current work and my current work was last week. He was writing a guest post for this blog. He promised to send me his most recent essay in draft form for review. On July 11, he sent the essay to me and a few others. Two days later, he was no longer with us. Unbelievable.
And so, on Saturday, after my colleague delivered the news during that beach walk, I stopped and cried. I asked "why?" so many times and shook my head in disbelief as I moaned and the tears fell. What else could I do? The once colorful, happy beach scene turned gray. Over 20 years ago, I remember my husband relating that the colors were taken from him when his Dad, a vibrant graphic artist, died too young (but at a much older age than Jonathan). I understood in that moment on the beach exactly what my husband meant. Yet, I knew I had to move on. My friends were way down the beach by that time. They needed to know what had transpired. I needed their support and love; and I knew I needed them to to try help me make sense out of the world around me. Everything was and remains a bit off-kilter. I know many of you can identify with that feeling.
As I walked down the beach, head bowed low, the first thing that stood out for me on the bland, gray sand was this rock.
It appeared blue in the sunshine--a striking blue in the dull sandy grayness--although in other lights it takes on more charcoal color, as it does in this photo. Like Jonathan, it stood out as special, a near-perfect specimen among many others. In finishing the walk, I picked up several other objects that stood out from others on the beach. Somehow, that effort comforted me. I cannot really say why . . . .
Over the past few years, those of us who research and teach business law have mourned the loss of a number of amazing colleagues. These passings have hit all of us hard, professionally and personally. But the loss of Jonathan Rohr from our midst feels qualitatively different to me, as a close colleague and mentor. It will take time for me and many others who knew him to even begin to process this tragic loss. Perhaps this post will begin a process of healing for me. But I do not know that I ever will make sense out of this. We have lost a man that many had loved and respected. In his way-too-short life, he touched colleagues and students, as well as family and friends. His enthusiasm and love for life was so palpable and contagious; I still feel that energy now. I hope that sense of connection lingers. It also is a comfort.
I dedicate this post to Jonathan, with offers of sympathy and love to his wonderful wife, Jing, and the rest of their family. I am so glad that he became part of my life and so mournfully sad that he has left us.