He was only a few years older than me. He was a brand new prof at Big Midwestern the year I arrived. The first-years all took classes with this guy, pronounced a Wunderkind by the profession with a demeanor (and haircut) somewhere between Bill Gates and Ken Burns. Cool he was not. He was easily irritated with us, trying to pull us up to his speed -- as if humming the Jeopardy theme song was going to make us respond faster. I confess that I thought, after a few weeks, that he was a complete asshole.
And then I got better as a student and he got better as a prof, as these things happen. I got to know his family, his lovely wife, his three kids. He became department chair on the heels of his second book, director of a internationally known Human Rights center at the same time. He published, he supported grad students in their research and in their union organizing, he made hilarious withering comments at times when other professors lapsed into piety or silence. He could say "that's just fucking stupid" and the roof didn't fall in, giving others (me) the courage to call them as we saw them when we felt we'd earned the right to do so. He took on far more than he could reasonably be expected to do and somehow pulled it off, making time to watch the OC with his children and open his home to his colleagues at all stages of professional development.
On Thursday, he collapsed from a previously undiagnosed and inoperable brain tumor. True to his wishes, he was kept alive just long enough to give his final gifts to the world -- "stripped for parts," he probably would have said with wry black humor.