The e-mail arrived yesterday at 7:19 pm. It was titled, "Cancellation: September Party at John's House," and the first sentence struck me like a sharp gust of wind: "We are sorry to announce the passing of John Berthoud."
What!? I had seen John just last night, at the E Street Theater for the premier of The Call of the Entrepreneur. In fact, as we walked into the movie room along with a couple of NTU colleagues, the theater was so packed that we couldn't find a group of seats together. John's solution: he found an open seat, and instead of availing himself of it, said I should take it.
Later, at the after-party, I found myself chatting with NTU's newest employee, who had just finished her third day. As John was leaving, he stopped by, and our last exchange went like this: "You know," I said, "It's pretty cool to have a boss who not only hangs out with you after work, but who's also cool enough to be someone you want to hang out with." John's reply: "Dude, the job's already been filled."
This was John: selfless and dependable, witty and fun.
Whenever we took a taxi somewhere, John insisted that he pay. As he once e-mailed me, "You're a poor indigent 20-something, so I'll cover the cab."
Another e-mail captures the same sentiment. "Amigo— I'm going to pop by this party on Water Street this evening. Want my Red Top [Cab] chauffeur to swing by and pick you up?" I said yes, but asked if we could leave 15 minutes earlier. "Anybody who—post-college—can swim a 200 free in two fricking minutes clearly shouldn't be left tapping his fingers,” he wrote back.
Similarly, at the happy hours we both frequented, it was not unusual for John, finding his drink running low, to ask whatever circle of people he was in what he could bring them back from the bar. There was no ulterior motive; there was even no expectation of reciprocity. This was unqualified generosity—a happiness to be in the company of others, to meet new people and to enjoy life as it came.
I met John when I worked a few blocks away from NTU, in Old Town, Alexandria. We were just acquaintances until about six months ago, when we realized that a woman he had dated was the same one who got me my first job. After that, we became fast friends, both firmly believing in limited government and living a few minutes away from one another in the Clarendon section of Arlington.
You wouldn’t know it if you didn’t ask, but John was not only an advocate, having run NTU for the past 11 years, but also a scholar, having received a PhD from Yale and taught at George Washington University. Indeed, the fight for freedom lost a major figure yesterday, and I lost a great buddy.
Update: Tributes: Jon Henke, Rob Bluey, CAGW, David Keating, Mike Krempasky, ALEC, Mary Katherine Ham, Mike Pence.
Update: From Maria Berthoud:
Reading the funny stories that some of you shared here about John made me smile (which has been hard to do for the past 24 hours), because so many of you captured his dry wit and humor perfectly, and everyone captured his passion and dedication to his work. Although John and I have been divorced for five years, the 10 years we spent together made me who I am today, and I will always be grateful for the time I had with John. Besides being the man I loved, and will always love, John was also my first real mentor in the work world, and there is no one I respected more, as his dedication to his work was immeasurable. But as his brother Charlie mentioned, so many people didn't know the other side of John—his family, and how much he loved his brothers and their wives and children, and his mother and late father. His family meant the world to him. Those in the conservative movement lost a true hero yesterday, but his family lost a beloved member. I cannot imagine what the holidays will be like this year for his family without John's presence. God bless his wonderful family, and God bless John, an absolutely amazing man that I was lucky enough to have had in my life for so long, and known so well. Goodbye for now JEB.