Respecting Respectful Janet Reno (1938-2016)

The New York Times Magazine, in its December 25th annual selection of “The Lives They Lived,” highlighted dozens of this year’s departed.

Among all the greats remembered there, only one, Janet Reno, was the subject of two reports.

One showed her rough-hewn Florida bedroom, photographed shortly after her death on the eve of Election Day last month.

The other remembered her during her 2002 near-miss campaign for Governor of Florida, two years after she had finished serving for nearly eight years as Attorney General of the United States.

In 1993 and 1994, as a Main Justice lawyer, I got to see AG Reno in action in a few big-crowd meetings.  She was decency personified, attentive to detail, and concerned only that she and everyone in the Department of Justice was doing their jobs well.

And she was charmingly not hip.  For example, at one of those meetings, held around the time when “dissing” became a word and a thing, the AG began to state her disagreement with someone’s point as follows:  “I don’t want to be ‘dis,’ but…”  (The room then froze for a second, and then exploded in laughter.  The AG, puzzled but knowing she’d said something funny, joined in.)

Janet Reno wasn’t “dis.”  She was exactly, authentically, entirely the opposite.  And her personal goodness moved and lifted people, including throughout the Department of Justice—she led the excellent people of federal law enforcement to do better, including in some hard passages, than they would have without her to follow.

Public life, in Florida and nationally, was better for it.

 

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