ALAN BARTH, WHO died yesterday at the age of 73, was more than just our colleague on this editorial page for over a quarter-century. He was also our friend. That personal entanglement with him, a mixture of admiration and love, makes impossible the cool, objective appraisal we normally try to present here of the lives of people who have been important in the region or the country. Instead, we want to try to tell you why Alan Barth was a very special person to us and why we think the world in which we all live is better because of him.
When Alan joined the staff of the editorial page in 1943, he had a reputation as a staunch supporter of civil rights and civil liberties. This newspaper did not. When he retired in 1972, his reputation had grown enormously and this newspaper had changed. His views on desegregation, equal rights, freedom of speech and a host of other issues had become, by and large, our views. His insistence on standing up for the constitional rights of every American, no matter how difficult that might be, had become our insistence. His imprint on editorial policies in those matters is so deep it can never be erased.
We like to think -- and you can judge for yourself whether it is true -- that these views made a difference not only to this newspaper but to this city and the country. Alan's voice was the voice of reason, arguing -- before it was popular -- for peaceful desegregation of the schools, for equal rights for everyone, for protection of the rights of criminal defendants and witnesses before congressional committees, for the widest possible interpretation of that great guarantee of "free speech," and against guilt by association. He stated the case for these positions passionately in hundreds of unsigned editorials and in a stream of books and bylined articles that made his name better known to a generation of college students than it was to our readers. In time, many of the things he argued for came to pass, although some are still a matter of strenuous debate. His professional career, we think, was a remarkable example of the ability of one man to influence the way all men think.
It was not always easy, either for Alan or for this newspaper, to be at the cutting edge of such controversies. The accusations made against us and him, personally, were often quite bitter. Words like "pinko," "pro-communist" and "nigger-lover" -- in the days when those were still part of the debased currency -- were thrown at him during the McCarthy days and the original school desegregation fights. Alan never flinched and his support for the causes in which he believed never wavered. We concede that others on this newspaper were sometimes deeply concerned about the road down which he was taking us. But when it was suggested he had gone too far, that he had defended the rights (as distinct from the deeds) of one too many criminals or political pariahs, he would merely smile that wry smile and start all over again the process of persuading others that the rights of no American are safe unless the rights of all Americans are safe.
Alan never controlled the editorial policies of this newspaper even on those subjects; control rested elsewhere. But he dominated them by persuading his colleagues, through scholarship and force of intellect, that he was right. He was helped, and directed, by his ability to find just the right phrase or just the right quip to bring laughter to a heated internal argument. But it was hard to maintain a disagreement with the man who had distilled so much of the learning of the country's great scholars and judges. There were, however, subjects on which his views did not dominate our policies. When such subjects came up in our daily conferences, he seemed to love the exposure of our differences almost as much as he loved their resolution in his favor. His joy, in other words, was almost as great in intellectual combat as in victory.
That is part of what made Alan so special to us. The rest is strictly personal. He was a man who loved life and people. Those whose personal lives crossed his, as ours did, were enriched by the encounter. He was gentle and kindly, full of wit and humor, always ready to offer help and whatever you might need. He surrounded himself with friends of all kinds. You could find them at his home in the evenings and on weekends -- eating, playing softball and, above all, gabbing. You never knew when you went just what to expect or whom you might see, but you did know that when you left you would be glad you had been there.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of those whose writings greatly influenced Alan, once wrote of what he regarded to be the best service one could do for his country or for himself:
"To see so far as one may, and to feel the great forces that are behind every detail -- for that makes all the difference between philosophy and gossip -- to hammer out as compact and solid a piece of work as one can, to try to make it first rate, and to leave it unadvertised."
We cannot think of a more fitting epitaph for our colleague and friend.