John Gardner at Home

Memories from Jens Ohlin

I first met John in New York City, shortly after I graduated from law school, at a conference at Cardozo in honor of our mutual colleague, the criminal law theorist George Fletcher. At the time I was a mere student, or recent graduate, but had a wonderful exchange with John, who treated me with the utmost charity and respect, even though he didn’t have to. I still remember when he rose to the podium to give his lecture at Cardozo; the room listened rapturously as he skillfully developed his argument. It gave me, a young academic, a real sense of how to construct an argument and how to present it in public.

When I became a professor, imagine my delight when I learned that John had agreed to visit at Cornell during the fall term in 2015. Simply put, it was an amazing semester. John came to work every day, sitting in the faculty lounge and joining in our crazy conversations. When he first arrived at Cornell, I told him how I excited I was to be able to discuss criminal law theory with him, and how much his collection “Offences and Defenses” had influenced me. At first I was disappointed when he declared that he had “retired” from criminal law theory and moved on to other matters, but during the semester we managed to draw him out in conversation on several topics regarding criminal law and tort theory, much to our benefit.

During each of these intense jurisprudential conversations, John was both light and funny. I have met many brilliant philosophers over the years, but none were as kind or as funny as John. In fact, I can’t think of a single philosopher who displayed John’s combination of brilliance, insight, creativity, and good humor.

John was invited to give an endowed lecture at Cornell that semester, which he agreed to in advance. When he arrived, he found out that the lecture was more formal than he had originally been led to believe. He then decided it would be more appropriate to write, in advance, a full-length address for the occasion. So, over the next few days, John set pen to paper and came up with the "Twilight of Legality,” which far surpassed our expectations for the event. During the lecture in the stately Moot Court Room, the audience sat transfixed as John unveiled a counter-intuitive thesis, defended it deftly, and graciously answered our questions with charm and wit.

We shall miss him terribly and think of him always. He left behind a legacy of brilliance, collegiality, and generosity.