Sunday, April 19, 2015

Charles Davenport, Rest In Peace

by Neil H. Buchanan

Chuck Davenport died last week.  I admired him greatly.  Chuck was the senior tax law professor at Rutgers-Newark when I was on the entry-level market for legal academics.  When I visited Newark for my job talk, Chuck came to the small dinner the night that I arrived, and I immediately knew that I had met a kindred spirit.  It was clear that we were politically similar (for example, he positively compared my thinking with that of John Kenneth Galbraith -- a generous compliment that would turn anyone's head!), but that was not what really mattered.  Chuck was just so easy to like.

Upon my joining the Rutgers faculty, Chuck agreed to be my official senior faculty mentor.  He had already become my mentor unofficially, so this really changed nothing.  Even so, it meant that he was willing to put his considerable reputation behind my emerging career, which changed things quite a lot.  After I left Rutgers, Chuck and I stayed in touch, getting together for a few lunches and dinners over the years.  He always asked to read the drafts of my latest work, insisting modestly that he probably would not understand it, but then offering extremely helpful insights.

Remembrances of departed law professors often focus on descriptions of high-impact scholarship, important cases argued and briefs filed, and so on.  This is important, especially when celebrating people who have devoted their lives to improving the world through that kind of work.  As important as that is, however, I will leave it to others.  The most important thing to remember is that the departed were first and foremost people.  Chuck was a person, a human being, a mensch.  He cared deeply about social justice as a legal and academic matter, but he also cared about being kind, friendly, and helpful.  He was understated and funny, with a dry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye that always let people know that he was happy to be spending time with them.  He never took himself or the world too seriously.

Charles Davenport mattered in people's lives.  Wherever he was involved, he made things better.  He was modest, and he helped others.  He was a good man, and I wish that he was still in our world.