The “Baron,” John Von Kannon, RIP

Von Kannon 2 copyMore sad news from the ranks of our friends and heroes this week, this time the passing of John Von Kannon at the age of 66. John was one of the founders, with R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., of The American Spectator, and went on to become vice president of the Heritage Foundation. It was during those madcap early years of the Spectator that John acquired the nickname “Baron” that stuck for good. Heritage recounts John’s great career as one of the rainmakers and elder statesmen of the conservative infrastructure here.

Heritage president Jim DeMint recalls today that John had “an absolutely outrageous sense of humor.” This is, if anything, an understatement. In recent years I spoke with John more often on conference calls than in person, but I would never let the call end without extracting a new joke from him, which he always had in copious supply.

John spent two years on the west coast, at the Pacific Legal Foundation, back at the end of the 1980s when I was living in Sacramento. Having come to California, John acquired a convertible, and we’d go for lunch from time to time on the proviso that we had to drive some distance with the top down, naturally. I recall one lunch in particular because we never did get back to the office for the rest of the day. Sitting outside at a Mexican restaurant on the banks of the Sacramento River, the first pitcher of margaritas yielded to a slow series of successors as the afternoon passed, and finally an early dinner. (Hey—John wasn’t identified on the American Spectator masthead as the “chief Kapellmeister” for nothing.)

This has been a tough year for the thinkers and doers of the conservative world. John leaves behind a legacy of how to build institutions, and his example will remain prominently in mind for a long time.