John Gardner at Home

Memories from Elisa Holmes


I heard the horrible news about your cancer yesterday morning. I’ve had tears in my eyes ever since. I know you’d hate that, so it’s probably just as well I’m the other side of the world!

I can’t begin to imagine how you must be feeling, and I’m so very sorry. That doesn’t adequately express how I feel: I feel quite devastated actually, but I’m not sure that I’m entitled to feel that given how long it has been since we have been in touch. I’m just so sorry. You’re indestructible, in my mind, and I can’t get my head around this happening to you.

I think of you often as I wander through my life! Indeed, I’ve just started to delve back into my philosophy books: I have a corner of my chambers dedicated to it!

I had hoped to start writing again too, but I don’t think I’m going to manage that without the knowledge that you are there, and without the prospect of being able to talk to you about it.

I heard that Tony Honoré had died a few months ago, and I saw a video of you talking to Tony at what looked like some drinks to mark his retirement from teaching. You haven’t changed a bit! You don’t even look a year older than when I saw you last.

What I would do to have the chance to go back to Oxford and go to all those jurisprudence and philosophical foundations seminars and tutorials… I’d be so much better at it now! More confidence, I guess.

I often explain to people that doing philosophy at Oxford taught me how to think. But it wasn’t so much doing philosophy at Oxford, as having you to teach me. You were incredibly generous to me, and you really did change my life, most significantly by teaching me how to think, and arming me with so many intellectual tools which I otherwise never would have had. I feel so lucky and privileged to have had you in my life.

Apart from all of that, you made my experience of Oxford so extraordinary. I think back to things like opening the door of your flat once to let Ronald Dworkin in (who knows where you were, but I was utterly star-struck), wandering around All Souls at night, spending hours sitting in your flat writing with you, and even more hours observing your freakish capacity for work. I also remember asking John Finnis in your dining area how someone so intelligent could be so religious. It must have been several glasses of wine in, because I can’t now recall his answer!

You have had such a huge impact on so many people’s lives. You’ve done so much and you’ve contributed so much to so many different things. You really are an extraordinary person, John Gardner!

Having moved back to Australia, I don’t really miss London, but I do miss Oxford, and that is in very significant part due to you.

I think of you also when I write. You still influence my writing style (including my propensity for parenthetical remarks), and only last week in the Court of Appeal I drew on some ideas from conceptual analysis. I thought to myself that you would have been proud!

Huge hug, and lots of love.

Elisa x