My encounter with Walter Berns

Tributes are pouring in for Walter Berns, the conservative scholar who died over the weekend. Steve has written two of the best. He is joined by a host of conservative stars who knew Berns as teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend.

I knew Walter Berns for a different reason. I once backed into his car.

The accident occurred in the parking lot of the apartment building where my parents and Berns lived. Distracted by three of my parents’ young grandaughters in the back seat, I managed to hit Berns’ parked car.

Not knowing whose car it was, I left a note. The next day, the owner called me. It was Walter Berns.

The voice was gruff, but Berns was sympathetic. He began by thanking me for leaving the note (“fessing up,” as he put it). There had been no witnesses, and he probably understood that, under the circumstances, none was likely to have materialized.

Berns “fessed up” that he had initially assumed the note was from my father (his neighbor), and had called him about the matter. This left my father “nonplussed,” as Berns put it. I can imagine.

We discussed the idea of bypassing the insurance company and having me pay him directly, assuming that, as looked to be the case, the cost of the repairs wouldn’t be substantial. Berns said he would get an estimate.

The estimate came in very high. When Berns called back to give it to me, he was appalled and apologetic. I thanked him and said I would have the insurance company handle it.

So ended my encounter with Walter Berns. He could not have behaved better or been more gentlemanly.

I think Berns was impressed that I had left the “fessing up” note. If so, I impressed him in the only way I think I could have — by behaving decently.