Saturday, May 21, 2005

David Bradford memorial at Princeton

Dave's memorial was a lovely event, albeit on a horribly cold and wet day, in which it was amazing (even for such an occasion) how completely positive everyone's feeling about him were. Apparently, he was easygoing even as an adolescent (!). Also interesting how he had several different parts of his life that people in one part didn't always know about because he was reticent about personal stuff.
Anyway, here is a copy of my remarks at the ceremony:
The first time I ever talked at any length with David will always be a bright spot in my memory. I was in New York City, because I was considering relocating from Chicago to NYU, and NYU’s law dean, John Sexton, had hooked me up with David so that we could discuss the possibility of running a tax policy colloquium together. I remember this trim, vigorous man with a shock of white hair and an amazingly warm smile plus enthusiasm to match. We took a long walk around the Central Village and Soho, and talked about what we could do. It was the beginning of a 10-year run that ought to have continued for another 10 years at least.
David was great to go to battle with, although by “battle” I just mean trying to have a good and enlightening session that everyone, including us, would learn from and enjoy. And it’s amazing to me, in retrospect, how much his enjoyment contributed to mine and that of everyone else in the room. He enjoyed the dialogue, the jokes when they came, and the attempt to understand things better. And he definitely enjoyed the food. I generally picked the restaurants where we continued the conversations with a small group, and I only realized after the terrible thing had happened how much of my own enjoyment was bound up in finding new places that I hoped David would like.
I have never known anyone as willing and interested as him when it came to discussing and pursuing disagreements in an amiable and open-minded spirit. A mutual friend from another university tells the story of how, while still quite junior, he first got to know David, who at the time was running the Public Economics program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The colleague who tells this story had written a paper that David was strongly inclined, as an initial matter, to disagree with.
For quite a few eminent people whom I have met in academics, the next step, had they been in David’s position, would have been obvious. They would have thought: this guy’s an idiot; he’s junior and I’m not; I don’t like him; he’s certainly not presenting that paper at my forum.
David’s reaction was different. He found it interesting and noteworthy that someone else, by the appearance of things intelligent and thoughtful, viewed the issue so differently than he did. So he called this much more junior person on the phone and said: let’s get together and discuss it. I gather they hit it off personally, which was not hard to do with David, and, after a number of lengthy discussions, David decided that he agreed with the view the paper took.
Not to make him too much of a teddy bear - David was tough on sloppy thinking, and willing to argue as vigorously as he was willing to be argued with. But his enjoyment of it all, and the total absence of anything resembling anger or vanity or pretense, meant that nearly everyone took it well.
I think of David whenever I pass the coffeehouses in the West Village where we used to meet on Wednesday nights to plan the next day’s session. And of course all the restaurants. There are too many of those places. I miss him when I want to compare notes about an idea, or current events, or someone we both know. It was consistently delightful to spend time with him, and of course I learned a great deal, as I think just about everyone who spent time with him did.
We had all these jokes together, as well as a set of ongoing serious dialogues, whether about topics of professional interest, or the war in Iraq, or Daniel Dennett, or behavioral economics, or the instances where I took a skeptical view of someone’s behavior and he was just too nice to see it that way. He really couldn’t imagine, for example, that other people would ever be rude or nasty or disingenuous, because he so completely lacked any such inclinations himself.
Although obviously life is very unfair sometimes, or we wouldn’t be here today for this occasion, in terms of personal reputation you reap what you sow. Gundel has told me how amazing she and other family members found the outpouring of love and warmth and concern that came in from people around the world who knew David professionally, or even just had met him a couple of times. I myself heard from a lot of people who didn’t want to presume on the family’s time, but who felt the same way about him as do all of us here today.
For myself, the long view to take is simply that I am fortunate to have known David for as long as I did. And a feeling of celebration and joy, not sorrow however strong the grounds for it, is what I know he would have wanted people to express and to feel today. So thanks, David, and much though I will miss you I will be thinking of you in the years ahead as if you were still here.


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