Sunday, January 13, 2013

Remembering Jeffrey O'Connell

Since Jeffrey died last Sunday, there have been several notices.  The New York Times and UVa Law both ran good obituaries.  His accomplishments as a scholar are fairly well-known, and I want to share glimpses of Jeffrey that are more personal.

He was a virtuoso classroom teacher.  Jeffrey was so entertaining behind the lectern that you had to listen.  In this way, you learned and learned painlessly.  He told me that too many teachers neglected the performance aspect of teaching.  He studied drama, and even taught it while he was a Harvard Law student, and he used the techniques to enhance his teaching. 

He had a fantastic sense of humor.  One way he was so entertaining is that he was funny.  One day, as his research assistant, I was waiting for him to finish class so we could work on an article.  When he finally came out of the classroom, he winked at me and said, "Sorry I'm late.  The students like to ride me around on their shoulders after class."

He worked.  A lot.  I have vivid memories of him in his office.  He liked to work standing at a lectern and listening to classical music.  At one point in the early 2000s, he told me that he thought he had finished writing.  It lasted a few months.  In 2008, on the verge of turning 80, he co-authored 3 books.

He was centered in family.  He spoke often and lovingly of his family.  His Christmas cards in the later years featured him surrounded by numerous family members and very happy.  I returned from his funeral yesterday, and the family's deep affection for Jeffrey was obvious.

He was generous.  One word I hear over and over about Jeffrey from others is that he was generous.  In working with him, Jeffrey was always more concerned that I get credit for my work than he was about credit for his.  Over the weekend, I heard a story about his experiences as an associate at Hale & Dorr in Boston.  One of the firm's clients was a man who had escaped the Holocaust in Germany.  He built a financial empire in the United States, but was illiterate.  On his own time, Jeffrey took dictation from the man so he could send letters back to his family in Europe.  

He was compassionate.  His fundamental idea was to make compensation more readily available to the injured.  Regardless of your view of his proposals, and we disagreed on several occasions about how to best accomplish the objective, he was motivated by a basic compassion for people.

Farewell, my friend.  You will be missed.

--CJR 

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