April 27, 2007 · Lessig
I was extremely sad to read this morning that Jack Valenti has died.
I met Valenti just about 10 years ago while I was at Harvard. Soon after I met him, he published a piece that was extremely nasty about me. A couple months later, he came to Harvard to debate me. He began by apologizing, marking the piece as the “dumbest” thing he had written.
From that moment on, every moment I was privileged to know the man was also a surprise. He was brilliant, and funny, and extraordinarily generous. We debated four times. In each he was self-deprecating, funny, and very very clever — feigning ignorance where it helped, pouncing when it worked. The last time I saw him was at the premier of Gore’s film in Washington. He pulled me aside, and spent 15 minutes asking about everything in my life.
Our positions on many things could not be more different, though we shared certain, fundamental values. It took him 10 seconds to agree to endorse Creative Commons at our launch. Watch the characteristically Valenti (funny, self-deprecating, but very smart) (and totally exaggerating my role but forgive him for that) here:
Valenti taught me many things. But best among those things was the importance of civility. He was respectful and strong, never demeaning or belittling of those he disagreed with. A conversation with him would not produce converts. But it did, in important ways, produce understanding.
We are all worse off because of his passing, and he will be missed by many. But the model of his life as a man will always be remembered. And taught. At least, by me.