Sunday, February 19, 2012


Sunday Reflection: On the Death of Katherine Darmer

Yesterday, I stumbled across this-- a blistering critique (with even harsher comments) of something I wrote for CNN, coming from an academic subculture I don't know much about. Frankly, I did not understand it. My first thought, in trying to get a handle on it, was to ask my friend Katherine Darmer, whose clear-eyed intelligence and compassion would cut through the bullshit-- both theirs and mine-- and lead me to a place of greater knowledge. That is what she did, wonderfully, for thousands of students at Chapman Law School and for the many of us who in our own ways were her followers.

She was fortunate to be born from brilliance. Her parents, Bob and Alice Baird, are legends of the best kind at Baylor, where Bob is a philosophy professor. I remember once having dinner with the philosopher Dallas Willard, and despite my best efforts to raise other topics, Willard kept bringing the conversation back to Bob, because of his deep respect for Professor Baird. It was Bob who first introduced me to his daughter.

One reason that Katherine provided such good advice to me was that our professional lives tracked one another nearly identically. She went to Princeton undergrad, and graduated from Columbia Law (as a Harlan Fisk Stone scholar) about the same time I graduated from Yale Law. Then we both clerked in federal court, worked for a big firm for three years, served as federal prosecutors from 1995-2000, and entered the academy in 2000. We both wrote about sentencing and (later) the civil rights of gay men and lesbians. It was easy for her to see things through my eyes, and vice-versa.

When I wrote articles, I would send them to her and she would respond with a thicket of insights that I had not thought of. Sometimes, if I was in California or she was in Texas, we would linger in the kitchen after others had drifted off somewhere, talking about ideas. Those conversations had a profound effect on me.

In 2008 and 2009, she told me about her work against Proposition 8 in California, which would bar same-sex marriage there. She was a passionate advocate on the issue, and she was one of the people-- perhaps even the most important-- in shaping my own evolution on that issue, and her challenge required me to first confront my own personal history. Later, she counseled me, wisely, on the decision to write and speak about Baylor's policies regarding gay men and lesbians.

Katherine's advise was always astute, in areas large and small. When I was planning a conference at Baylor, I called her. When I was to give the commencement address at her alma mater, Vanguard High in Waco, I called her. She told me to talk about "love" a lot, and I did. When I was considering the move to St. Thomas, I sought her counsel again, and everything she said was right. By then, I had learned to do what she advised.

What was it like to talk to Katherine Darmer, to seek out her counsel?

First, she had a trait that I see in the very best trial lawyers, the very best teachers, and the very best parents. She was a wonderful listener. She would lower her head a little bit, lean against a counter, and do nothing else but take in what you were saying. She was comfortable with being quiet as she listened, which is a rare and wonderful trait. If she wanted to clarify something, or ask a question, her hand would come up, palm out, to signal that, the gentlest of signs.

Then she would nod. If she nodded hard, her hair would bounce, and sometimes she did nod hard. She understood, and she did-- her intelligence could be sharp and fierce or soft-spoken, but it underlaid everything. She was, as we say in law, a "quick read," a talent that takes equal measures of intelligence, empathy, and critical thinking.

It was those traits-- intelligence, empathy, and critical thinking-- that would frame her response. One did not go to Katherine Darmer if you wanted a simple "yes" or affirmation; she was too smart and honest for that.

I cannot ask her about the piece I am pondering, because she is gone. We miss those who have died when we stumble on the hole that they leave, and for Katherine that will be different for different people; she left many very large holes.

For me, the rest of my life, there will be a repetition of the same moment... I am thinking about writing something, or doing something, and it is her counsel I need. That is when I will stumble into that hole and remember her as she was-- a woman who worked most hard for people who were not like her, who turned her mind and energy to justice, and who so often used her prodigious gifts in the ways that were best for God's creation, this world.

Thank you, Mark, for the way you captured her spirit. I am struggling to understand how we will no longer have her fierce, loving spirit in our lives.
Paul Tellstrom
very moving, mark. and my prayers are with katherine's family, as well as her friends, who will clearly miss her dearly.
as i said earlier, though i didn't know katherine, it's quite apparent that the world is far worse off than it was two days ago, before her passing.
it sounds like she was an amazing woman. people like your post describes are rare treasures.
I love the way your wrote about her. Beautifully.
I was just writing to a friend of mine about friendship... and what it means to different people...

People are gifts in our lives...the gifts of family and friendship are the only REAL gifts people can give to each's like....human currency... like that song from Rent? Measure your life in love. We need to treasure and appreciate each other in this life most of all, I think above almost anything else. Some people learn this too late or not at all.

I LOVE how you described how she listened so intently. Seems like she gave you many many gifts of freindship. I think this is the best thing you have ever done on the Razor.
It sounds like she was a true friend and your tribute and rememberance of her is lovely. I hope someday you can find another voice to help fill this gap.

That person may already be in your life waiting for you to approach. They may not be who you expect.
I am so sorry. You have known and worked with some incredible women.
“Today there are good people with ideas and solutions. Let's not quit on them too soon.” – Mr. Osler

Good people – I shed not a tear for the passing of my parents, consoled by the blessing of their lives in mine. Early mass, prayers and resolve will hold back not this morning’s tears. I am empty, not unlike the hole Katherine Darmer has left in Mark’s life.

This morning, the gift of posts like Mark’s - and other links- sprinkles rays of hope upon the vitriol often directed toward “…people who were not like her.” Peter, Paul and Mary’s lyrics echo, Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

I can only imagine the difficult moments Katherine’s family and loved ones have experienced so suddenly. Silent whispers swirl and emotions continue to sway; tears often preceding requests for God’s comfort. “Why God, why?”

Words seem inadequate at moments like this; prayer so powerful and often silent. How to summon faith to share the emotions that consume? We search for the appropriate “last words,” often unaware promises of remembrance will be rewound and replayed - as a pledge to those so loved.

As family, loved ones and friends gather to support each other, all of the wonderful moments and treasured memories shared will be a celebration of life. God has called Katherine home. While she has received her reward for a life of love, giving and sharing - faith, prayer and our hearts will reveal true remembrance.

The most precious gift we will ever receive is our gift of life. Our precious gift is given freely and with one request; a request that we reverence, nurture and share our gift with everyone we encounter; a simple request that we occasionally have difficulty sharing easily and openly.

My prayer for her family and loved ones as they come together to celebrate life – Be passionate with your words of remembrance. Honor Katherine with your own words of loving memory; and with a simple promise. Promise you will weave her special gifts into the fabric of your life. Promise her that with each new breath you take and step you journey you will honor her with your words and with your actions. During your life’s journey continue to be aware of God’s children. Share her Spirit with everyone you meet, if only for a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours or for a life time. At this moment, God is holding her in His arms. As you fulfill your promise, family and friends who knew her may often say of you. You remind them of Katherine, of her love and compassion. She is loved by many, loved by God. Continue to be her, and His, presence in the world.

A Star awaits in heaven’s sky.
Named for her, we ask not why.
Accomplishments she’s had a few.
It must be her eternal love for you.

To the celestial realm, He will add her light.
Her love the source of a glow so bright.
Each night a reminder of all she shared.
Each beat of our hearts, She will be there.

God Bless You Katherine. We will not quit on you…
Words often fail when prompted by an eloquent tribute such as today's reflection inspired by your friend Katherine, by her larger than life presence in this world. The place she had in your own life will always be there, it is how all people we love and lost continue to be around, continue to inspire, nurture and comfort us. It is the way they go on living through all the people whose lives they touched. I am sorry for your loss and for her family's loss. For them the physical hole she left is always the hardest to reconcile, it is probably the only part the mind refuses to wrap around. God rest her in Peace!
Megan-- That's true (and you are one of them).
Thanks for this, Mark. Can only pray for her family, and be grateful for her gifts.
Read your post in church this AM; a good place to read this. A beautiful tribute to, by your report, an amazing woman. I trust her wisdom and her friendship will still be there for you.

Friendship, and particularly deep friendship, involves large quantities of being present to, of listening to, of being a witness to. It also is an intricate dance of candor, reciprocity, and mutual celebration. I love how you captured such a friendship.

As a friend that spends far more time connecting with you through your blog than in person … as well as from first hand knowledge … I often marvel at your gift and capacity for such friendships.

A prayer for Katherine and her family, for you, and for all those connected trough the web of friendship and by the grief of those lost too early (aren’t they all?).
It makes me feel so much more protective of those friendships, like ours, Craig... you can bet I will be there in May!
The friendships and deep friendships Craig speaks to are a common thread woven through the Razor family - a testament to Mark and all.

The ties that bind, a wonderful Lenten oppportunity to focus, in a special way, on one's life with God and the treasured friendships that have and continue to define each one of you.
An unthinkable, brutal loss both her wonderful extended family and the cause of justice and truth and righteous and love everywhere. We're all poorer for Katherine's passing ... and richer for her having been here.
Your words so beautifully captured Kathy - my oldest and dearest childhood friend. Thank you~
Elizabeth Buchanan
Mark, your words about our beloved daughter mean more to Bob, me, our daughter, and our son than we could ever express to you. Her husband, too, recalls having you all over for dinner in So. Ca. Too, I remember the happy time with your family, Kathy, and her children on the 4th of July a few summers ago. How welcoming you all were to her and to her family that quarter when she taught at Baylor. She often spoke of how much your friendship meant to her. Bob had so much appreciation for you and your role at Baylor. Please come to see us the next time you're in Waco.
Hi, I linked over to your blog from the article in the ocregister. I was a student of Professor Darmer's at Chapman. I took three of her classes during my time there. She was one of the best teachers that I had and I'm not just saying that because she gave me good marks. She made all of the material so easy to understand and she was always very helpful and humourous whenever I went to speak with her during her office hours. I read all of these comments from people who didn't know her so I thought it might be nice for you to read from someone who sort of did.

I couldn't believe it when I heard this news. It's really quite a shame. There are a ton of law students out there who will never get to learn evidence and crim pro from her. Wish foresight was as sharp as hindsight.

RIP Professor Darmer.
I read this in the OC Register. It's a wonderful description of a brilliant mind and passionate heart--thank you.
Katherine Darmer was an excellent law professor and an academic inspiration. I attended Chapman several years ago and learned a lot from her. I hope she is at peace and that her husband and children are guarded and guided by God at this difficult time.
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