The first time I saw Don it was through Emily Chamlee-Wright’s eyes. The dissertation chair of my undergraduate advisor was coming to speak to her comparative economic systems class and she was in a word giddy. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t get it. At the time, I wasn’t as close to Emily as I am now (and I hadn’t gotten to know Don yet) and so I didn’t understand the love that a student has for their mentor. I didn’t understand how great it would be to have the person whose footsteps you were following in to see you walking proudly and successfully along that path. Now I understand. Now I get it.
After getting to know Don, I began anticipating our every encounter with a similar sort of giddiness. Whether you were about to hear him lecture, or to share a Friday afternoon lunch to talk everything from music to hermeneutics. Whether it was a meeting to find out what he thought of the last paper you wrote (Don read and commented on every paper, that’s every paper, I wrote as a graduate student) or you were about to attend a seminar that you knew he’d be participating in. And, even when you were picking him up to go to chemo or visiting him in the last few weeks when he would tire quickly and felt run down. You always got excited when you knew you had an opportunity to be around Don because you knew you were about to be filled up, you were about to be enriched, you were about to be changed, you were about to learn something new, you were about to grow at least a little.
It’s an understatement to say that Don taught me a lot. After all, Don was the consummate teacher.
He embraced the life of the mind, the world of ideas and philosophies and books with all of his fiber. That you should always be open the arguments and ideas of even your staunchest critics; that it wasn’t enough to be a good economist (narrowly construed) but that you had to be receptive to cultural studies and philosophy and anthropology and sociology if you wanted to call yourself a scholar; that being a teacher meant that you have to give generously not only of your ideas but of your time; that you never took short cuts, ideas were too important for that; that you reserved your most pointed and focused critiques for your own scholarship; that people (all people) were, at their core, good; and, that liberty was worth fighting for are lessons that I will carry with me forever.
Don was a great man, a brilliant scholar, a wonderful teacher, a true mentor and a good friend. That he’ll never be able to come and speak to my comparative economics systems class saddens me more than you can imagine. That I’ll teach that class someday, however, is a certainty because of him.
Don Lavoie died of cancer on November 6, 2001 at the age of 50.
Please visit Don Lavoie Online (a site created and maintained in loving memory of our much missed teacher and friend by his students).