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Janet Reno: A Life of Giving

December 19, 2016

I recently had the privilege of attending the memorial service for my great friend, Janet Reno.  It was a wonderfully powerful and moving celebration of a generous life featuring a host of stellar speakers, which included President Bill Clinton, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former ABA and FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte and Janet’s sister, Maggy Hurchalla. Three members of the clergy also spoke.

In combination, they eloquently portrayed Janet’s life of humility, of giving to others and of her constant struggles for justice. For hers was a life grounded in a focused dedication to the fact-driven application of the law; but law informed by love, compassion and unflinching objectivity.  She shook the status quo long before she shook with the Parkinson’s that ultimately took her life. And she did it all with a quiet joy while demonstrating what a woman could do in what many had considered to be roles reserved for men.

With Christmas and Hanukkah falling on the same day, we will experience a time of giving this holiday season. These two festivals celebrate the light of the world represented by candles of truth. For me, that light could also represent Janet, because she was a blazing beacon for truthfulness and service to others that illuminated her generation.

Janet was also one of the world’s great listeners. She understood that although we are all different, what really matters in life are the connections we have to one another through our shared human needs and frailties.  Bill Clinton noted that Janet exemplified the truism that if you take responsibility, and make enough decisions in life, some of them will be wrong. But that in taking such responsibility Janet didn’t boast of her successes, refused to cut corners and never ducked or flinched when things went awry. Clinton pointed to the tragic Waco Branch Davidian standoff where Janet acknowledged her mistakes and declared “the buck stops here.” She did so because she firmly believed that facts matter and we only fool ourselves when we hide from them or deny their existence.

What really struck me as I listened – what leaped out of everything being said about Janet — were the bright candles for truth she lit by the example she left us all.  That example is giving of oneself, and not just during the holidays, but as part of all the life each of us has left, be that long or short.  Janet, through her life’s work, has taught us that we can’t hide from the unpleasant facts just because we don’t like them or because they are inconvenient when held up against whatever we espouse or believe in.  We have to face them unflinchingly just as Janet did.  We cannot turn off the world when things don’t go our way because we don’t like the facts on the ground.

Instead, what we have to do is give of ourselves through service by fighting for what is right and just.  We can’t dig holes to climb into. When others act or speak out of hate, bigotry, injustice or just plain error, we have to respond by standing up for the truth as Janet did.  But in so doing we must avoid simply mirroring the hate and negativity confronting us.  We must instead find Janet Reno’s joy and love for all across our country and allow it to speak both through us and for us.   If we don’t, then we will fail ourselves and fail Janet Reno as well.

Let us not fail. Let us succeed in her memory.