I lost a good friend yesterday. Dean Barnett was just 41 when he died of complications from Cystic Fibrosis. Dean and I first met in 1989 at Boston University School of Law. We were both incarcerated in Section B, which included contracts with the distinguished and extremely tough Professor Clark Byse. Dean and I helped each other survive that year. It was Dean’s infectious laugh (more of a squinty-eyed snicker of the Machiavellian type) that pulled me through.
We had lunch together most days in law school. Burger King on Commonwealth Avenue. We would marvel at how Dean would order the 6 piece chicken tenders, but most days find 7 or even 8 pieces when he opened the box. True, it didn’t take much to excite us back then. But remember that we were both poor law students. An extra chicken tender or two went a long way.
I can still remember Dean taking a tiny pill before each meal, a small reminder of the physical battle he waged all his life. He said very little about Cystic Fibrosis. In nearly 20 years, he never complained or asked why, at least not to me. In fact, it rarely came up, and when it did, Dean’s wit wasn’t far behind.
After law school, Dean worked as a headhunter, placing partners and associates in Boston law firms. An independent soul, Dean would have never have worked at a large law firm. He enjoyed his independence, and besides, he made more as a headhunter than any ’92 grad of BU Law has made practicing law.
Last fall I had a chance to spend some time with Dean in Boston. We played golf. He won. He always won. In law school, even with Cystic Fibrosis, when we played racquetball he beat me like a rented mule. Somehow I didn’t mind losing to Dean, not like I had a choice in the matter.
While he was beating me at golf last fall, we spoke of blogging, politics, the Red Sox (of course), and his wife. While I have never had the pleasure of meeting her, as seen through Dean’s eyes, she was a real catch.
To give you some insight into the character and perspective of Dean Barnett, here he is talking about his disease in 2006:
At one point during my interview, the questioner asked me if I expected to see a cure to CF in my lifetime. I answered no, but that it doesn’t really matter. When you see death up close, a couple of things become clear. One is that we all die, and that death is just part of the deal. The other is that life is such a blessing, that’s it just so great, even though you know the inevitable might be near you still want as many bites of the apple as possible.
None of us know what the future of the salt water treatment might be. My health will maintain its current state indefinitely in the truest sense of the term. The good times could continue for years, or it could all crash tomorrow.
But regardless, this treatment has given me time – time to spend with my wife and family and friends. Time to hit golf balls (usually sideways, but even that’s alright). Time to chase my dogs around the house. Time that frankly I didn’t expect to have. There could be no greater gift, and it’s a miracle in so many ways.
Throughout his life, Dean repeatedly and courageously took the road less traveled. And that made all the difference.
Rest in peace my friend. . .
P.S. The banner of Dean at the start of this post was “borrowed” from the Weekly Standard. I hope they don’t mind. Besides, Dean would have appreciated my ingenuity.
Here are some other articles about Dean’s life:
Published or updated August 2, 2011.