Remembering Vernon Jordan

Vernon Jordan has died. He was 85.

Jordan lived a remarkable life — from young waiter and chauffeur in the segregated south, to civil rights leader, to towering D.C. power broker and trusted adviser of presidents. You can get a flavor of it in this New York Times obituary.

Jordan was a partner and an institution at the law firm where I worked. He had an office on the same floor I did. I never really got to know Jordan, but did have the opportunity to observe him.

A year or two before I joined the firm, Jordan was caught up in the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. Jordan had helped find a job for Lewinsky at Revlon.

His explanation — that he liked to help young people find good positions — was greeted with plenty of skepticism. I know I didn’t buy it.

However, soon after joining the firm, I learned that, whatever might have been the case with Lewinsky, Jordan really did like to find good positions for young people. He often did so, and not just for the well connected.

Jordan didn’t just care about young people. My observation was that he cared about everyone he worked with.

When working long hours, I would set myself up in a conference room near the elevators on our floor. If Jordan popped by the office at night or on weekends and saw me on a regular basis, he would come into the conference room, ask how I was doing, and encourage me to finish up and go home to my family. If he passed me in the hallway and saw that I was stressed, he would notice and say a kind word or two.

At the firm, I benefitted from Jordan’s legendary ability to bring in business, some of which I worked on. Of course, I appreciated that. But I appreciated his kind words more.

The last time I saw Jordan was in December 2017. It was at a restaurant where I was celebrating the holidays with a few friends. One of them was about to leave the firm and take a high-level position in the Trump Justice Department.

Jordan entered the restaurant with his wife and another couple. He spotted us and walked across the room to congratulate my friend and wish him well. Class.

The last time I saw Jordan on television was in a recent PBS special. At one point in the documentary, Jordan said that whatever he had achieved in life, he accomplished through perseverance and hard work.

That’s always a good message. It’s an especially important one these days, when so many people seem to feel entitled to something for nothing.


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