Herb London died Sunday morning at the age of 79.
We each thought of him as both mentor and friend. Herb’s contributions to conservative thought, right-of-center institutions, and New York political life are well known.
We could recite them in detail, but we prefer to leave such specifics to the many other eulogies and memorials that have already begun to appear.
We prefer to focus on something more important, something often forgotten.
For above all else — above Herb’s prowess as a thinker, a teacher, and an institution builder — Herb London was a mensch. In an era of bitter divisiveness, of ever coarsening discourse, of scorched earth politics, Herb was always gracious, always open, always decent.
Herb would certainly have been forgiven had he been taken with himself. He was enormously gifted, accomplished in so many arenas, imposing, dashing, elegant, and urbane.
But Herb’s accomplishments never overpowered his modesty.
In Judaism — and Herb was very proud of his Jewish heritage — Moses represents the pinnacle of human achievement. The Torah testifies that there will never arise another prophet who will attain Moses’ greatness in communing with G-d.
The Torah also tells us that Moses was unmatched in one character trait: Moses was the humblest of all men. Humility — not a quality generally associated with leadership in our culture. And of all the titles Moses earned: prophet, leader, lawgiver, and more, the one by which Moses is known best is "Rabbeinu" — our teacher.
Herb London's greatness was inextricably linked to his modesty.
He was a man of ideas always eager to hear the ideas of others. His prodigious knowledge of background information and his ready access to people operating at the highest levels of government, policy, and academia never dimmed the eagerness he felt as a student.
Anytime anyone came to him with a "new" idea or theory, Herb stood ready to learn.
If he identified ways to improve the presentation, he waited until it was over before providing gentle guidance.
Herb was a lifelong student and a lifelong teacher.
Herb was also as willing to share as he was to learn. The platforms he created at New York University, the Hudson Institute, the London Center for Policy Research, and elsewhere drew together people seeking colleagues, helping them find each other and collaborating in ways that improved all of their work.
He never ran up front to take credit for anything that anyone else had ever done, or insisted upon putting his name first merely because he was the most prominent member of a team.
Herb was generous to a fault. Generous with his time, his money, his wisdom, his network, his encouragement, his praise. Herb was a man who enriched you simply by his presence and graciousness. He was a man over whom new acquaintances puzzled and marveled: could he possibly be real?
It would be nice to think that Herb was a throwback to another time, a holdover from an era when humility and self-confidence mingled peacefully, when grace and dignity predominated, when decency ruled.
Sadly, it seems unlikely that such a time ever existed.
Men like Herb London are far too rare in any era.
They are unlikely to become as conspicuous as their peers who excel in self-promotion. They sit at the perfect seam between visible leadership and behind-the-scenes counsel; while others generate heat, they spread light. And only those who are blessed to know them personally are fortunate enough to glimpse who they truly are.
The Talmud teaches that being in the service of a great scholar — spending time with him — is greater than being his disciple. The reasoning is that one will invariably learn deeper truths through observing how a sage lives his daily life than through attending his lectures.
Herb London was a sage.
Time spent with him was always illuminating; always enriching. We consider ourselves lucky to have gotten to know Herb and to work with him. Our only regret is that we did not get to spend more time in his presence.
May his memory be a blessing.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union's Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy, and an advisor to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. To read more of their reports — Click Here Now.
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