John Hart Ely, Constitutional law giant, and for nine years an important part of the law school's intellectual community, died this weekend. The New York Times has a full obituary
, which recites his honors and achievements, but it fails to capture the human side of the man I knew.
When he settled here permanently after a one-year visit that was a sort of mutual love-fest, he took up the corner office four doors away from me—so I saw him often. From the start, John made it clear that he had not come to Florida to scuba dive and retire, but to carry on his distinguished career in a congenial setting. And he did. In addition to his writing and teaching, he played an active part in faculty seminars, and often chaired our speaker series.
It took me a while to learn that interpersonally he was somewhat shy; what seemed at first to be gruffness was a form of uncertainty about people, although not about ideas. He often seemed least uncomfortable with people younger than him, and dispensed advice when pushed, but always self-deprecatingly.
His death was not sudden, but the end of months of fighting a tenacious and visibly losing fight against cancer. Until nearly the end, he came into the office as often as he could manage, and remained unfailingly, painfully, brave in the face of disaster.
He was an evangelical vegetarian, and a big fan of music, especially jazz, and of all things underwater. But mostly, he was a beacon of decency and clear thinking. I'll miss him. We all will.