The legal profession and the American people have lost a figure of towering intellect, patriotism, integrity, and steadfast, life-long commitment to public service with the passing of Kenneth Winston Starr.
Just imagine the arc of Ken Starr’s career. An outstanding student at Duke Law School, clerk to the Chief Justice of the United States, Chief of Staff and valued counselor to the Attorney General of the United States, judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Solicitor General of the United States, partner in two of the nation’s finest law firms, Dean of a prominent law school, President and Chancellor of an outstanding American university, author, public speaker, professor, advocate. This is only a partial list.
More than these outstanding accomplishments—a resume rivaled by few statesmen in our nation’s history (think William Howard Taft and George H. W. Bush), and the very pinnacle of the legal profession (think Learned Hand and Erwin Griswold)—I remember Ken Starr as a gentleman, scholar, teacher, mentor, husband, father, and grandfather. And a dear friend.
Ken was an individual who never said no to a call to public service. Never turned down a call for advice to younger lawyers. And was never not there when a friend or colleague needed a helping hand, comfort, a kind word, or help in a time of need.
Ken was among the first to arrive at my home in September of 2001 when my wife was murdered by terrorists on September 11, and stayed hour after hour answering phones and helping me and my family deal with the tragedy. And when I later remarried, he and Alice were among the first to invite me and welcome my new wife to their home for quiet and intimate Sunday dinners.
Ken had a gracious, generous, and giving disposition. He was a thoughtful listener and an avid learner. A great sense of humor and a ready smile or laugh. He had friends everywhere he went. His students loved him at Pepperdine and Baylor, wherever he taught, spoke, or practiced law. He seemed to have time for everyone, especially for young people embarking on legal careers. He did not just lead or supervise, he participated, and invited participation and collaboration. He involved himself with his friends, his young admirers, and was never distant, remote, or unavailable. How he did it all, I just don’t know. He seemed to have extra hours in the day, but was never too busy to stop, listen, and offer a helping hand or a comforting word.
During one of Ken’s most difficult times, as Independent Counsel in the Clinton investigation, he was revered by his staff, including many young lawyers. He withstood withering political and personal attacks with grace and patience. As tough as that assignment was, and despite the intense controversy surrounding him at every moment, day and night, including every single morning when he left home for his job, he stayed focused on his responsibility to uncover the truth, and report fairly and honestly conclusions that he felt legally and morally responsible to disclose.
Despite his many partisan critics and media assailants, Ken was always the same man, decent, honorable, open, gentle, and faithful to his principles and his God. Ken will be remembered fondly and with the greatest respect and affection by his friends, his partners, his students, and his family. The people he helped and guided, and for whom he served as an inspiration and example, will forever be warmed by his memory and his example. We have lost someone very rare and very special.
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