Wednesday, January 2, 2019
It's been a week since Lou, the co-editor of this blog and a friend and mentor to so many, colleagues and students alike, passed away. I haven't posted on the blog since then out of respect for Lou's memory and because I was waiting to find the right words to express what Lou meant to the people who knew him. But after a week I'm still at a loss to adequately describe his contributions. Instead, let me elaborate a bit on my earlier post while sharing some observations and anecdotes that speak to the kind of person Lou was and the many ways he helped others.
The first thought that comes to mind when I think about Lou is that he was one of the most authentic, genuine people I've ever met. I recently had the good fortune to spend a year as a visiting professor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs (where, ironically enough, one of Lou's former Villanova students was a JAG officer and professor in the law department) and the Air Force officers I met there, who I greatly admired, reminded me a lot of Lou. What they all have in common is their humility, putting service above self, trustworthiness, loyalty and honor. Lou didn't have much of a social media presence, and he wasn't one to tout his own accomplishments so many readers might not realize how much he devoted himself to the service of others. From organizing writing workshops that helped colleagues with their scholarship, to taking leadership positions in AALS, LWI and similar groups, to serving as EIC of the Journal of LWI and on the editorial board of Perspectives, Lou was the kind of guy that if he saw an opportunity to contribute to the profession, he was the first to raise his hand to volunteer. On an individual level, if you needed personal or career advice, he would always lend a patient ear and offer his sage wisdom. And he continued to serve others well into the latter phase of his career when most people are either slowing down or withdrawing altogether from such activities. Lou continued to serve others even when dealing with very serious health issues that for anyone else would have been good reason to dial it back. But Lou was always a work-horse and never a show-horse.
When Lou made a commitment to something, he meant it and kept his word. Take this blog, for example. When Lou agreed to help me start it in 2010, he was committing to blogging nearly every day for more than 8 years. Think about how many other blogs and bloggers have come and gone in that time. I'd like to think Lou continued to blog all these years, even in sickness, because he enjoyed it or found it satisfying, but I also know that he did it because he was a man of his word who honored his commitments. Related to that, Lou was a man of great integrity as evidenced by his decision to resign from an editorial board in protest over the mistreatment of a colleague.
For all these reasons (and more), many years ago I nominated Lou for the Blackwell Award which is given to the legal writing prof who makes an outstanding contribution to the discipline. By the time I'd nominated Lou for the award, I'd known him for more than ten years. During that time, I'd heard some colleagues pronounce his last name "sear-ah-coh," though I had always pronounced it "sur-ree-coh," like the famous Watergate judge. Since Lou never corrected me, I assumed I had it right. But during the Blackwell speech I gave on Lou's behalf at AALS that year, I asked Lou from across the room "have I been pronouncing your name wrong all these years?" Lou sheepishly nodded "yes." I later realized that Lou would rather endure the mangling of his last name than possibly embarrass someone by correcting them. In other words, another example of Lou putting the feelings of others ahead of his own.
When my mother passed away about a year or two after that, I was about to take over as EIC of J. Legal Writing, a job that Lou had also previously done. Lou was the first person I called for advice because I was thinking about quitting. Lou counselled me not to make any hasty decisions about important life choices like jobs, relationships, etc. following a traumatic event like the death of a parent. Instead, he told me to wait at least a year to put some distance between my mother's death and any decision about the EIC job. During our last phone call several weeks ago, I reminded Lou of that conversation - which he remembered well - and how I'd been able to pay it forward to others in the intervening years. Yet another example of Lou's continued service. And during our last phone call, I got emotional when Lou said he likely had less than a year due to the cancer diagnosis. Lou reassured me that he'd made peace with his situation and in so doing was clearly trying to protect my feelings a bit too.
Tom Brokaw called the generation that fought in World War II the "Greatest Generation" because of their dedication to service above self, being committed to a cause larger than oneself and their collective strength of character. Lou was born too late to be part of the "Greatest Generation" in terms of demographics. But in terms of ethos and the way he lived his life, that's exactly who he was and why we won't see the likes of Lou Sirico again.
Rest in peace.