The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

A Eulogy for a Friend

My Farewell to Barbara Branden

On March 2, 2014 a memorial was held for Barbara Branden in Los Angeles. It was my honor to offer one of the eulogies that day to a crowd of friends who had gathered to say goodbye.

It is not everyone who can say they know the exact day a life-long friendship began. With Barbara it was September 8th, 1985. It was a Sunday afternoon. I had driven to Los Angeles from San Francisco specifically to meet Barbara. I wanted to learn more about her upcoming biography of Ayn Rand.

We meet at her apartment on LaCienega and spent the entire afternoon talking everything and anything about Ayn Rand. It was one of those experiences where I didn’t want to leave and we talked long after we said we would. As I was leaving I asked her to sign a record from NBI of a lecture she gave. She was happy to do so.

So engrossed were we in conversation that she didn’t went into automatic mode mentally on the signing. She finished and handed me the album.

I couldn’t help but laugh. She was so distracted by the conversation that she signed “Best Wishes, Barbara Barbara.” When I pointed it out she quickly snatched the album and crossed out the second Barbara and wrote Branden below. I told her the wonderfully funny thing about the mistake is that the album was Principles of Efficient Thinking. She laughed.

All my favorite Objectivists are the ones who laugh.

A couple of weeks later a package arrived for me. Inside was a photocopy of the typed manuscript of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘰𝘧 𝘈𝘺𝘯 𝘙𝘢𝘯𝘥. I devoured it immediately, which led to further phone calls and long late night conversations. One afternoon I had the manuscript sitting on a table where I had been reading it in my bookstore. A woman came in and wandered around. She saw the manuscript and sat down and started reading. I didn’t see any harm in it and allowed her to do so. After about an hour she left, but 40 minutes later she was back. She sat down again and silently continued reading for 3 or 4 more hours.

he got up to leave and came over to me. “I was there,” she said. “I was in New York and went to the NBI lectures and meetings in Ayn’s apartment. I saw this first hand.” It seemed very cathartic for her to read what Barbara had written and she thanked me profusely. That was an experience I witnessed in many Objectivists, a book that helped them make peace with the past.

A couple of months later the arrangements had been made for me to bring Barbara to San Francisco when the book was released. I ran the first ads for 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯 that were published in Reason magazine a couple of months before the release. I had something like 300 orders for the book when it was released.

It was not long before the book came out that I received a call from Bob Hessen, Ayn’s former secretary and a former associate of Barbara and Nathaniel. When the split came Bob had remained friends with Ayn and was the official bookseller for Objectivism. Bob didn’t live far from me. He was just in Palo Alto. He said: “I hear you have the manuscript of Barbara Branden’s Rand biography.” I told him I did and he said he wanted to read it.

I didn’t feel I could do that without permission but gave him the name of a contact at Doubleday. I feared this could be a sensitive matter and I’m not good with sensitive.

Bob thanked me and apparently called Doubleday immediately. They complied and sent him the manuscript. It was a few weeks later that he called me again. I was now on the edge because I knew he was the official bookseller for Objectivism with Leonard’s blessings. I had a good relationship with Bob and a good relationship with Barbara and hoped to keep it that way. I liked them both.

The first thing he said was, “I’m so angry.” I figured that here it was, he was going to give me the official line and vent about the biography and Barbara. He continued to vent a bit but it became clear that what angered him was some of the things that had happened, that he had witnessed, and which, as he put it, “I allowed to happen.” He told me he had not been in touch with Barbara since the split in 1968. I told him that in June, Barbara would be in San Francisco for a local launch of the biography and that we were sponsoring a public dinner and talk at Lehr’s Greenhouse.

And then I went out on the limb and asked, “Would you like to introduce her?” He said, “I would be honored.” And he did.

I think we had around 150 present that night. That was June 11, 1986, again an event commemorated with an inscribed hardback of the book, though this time Barbara remembered both her names.

I remember one question from that night. During the Q&A someone asked Barbara what she thought about Murray Rothbard’s many accusations.

Barbara replied: “Murray who?” It was so nonchalant that everyone thought it intentional, sort of Barbara’s version of Howard Roark’s comment to Ellsworth Toohey: “But I don’t think of you.” Barbara confessed afterwards that she simply didn’t hear the question but when she figured it out she decided she had given the best answer inadvertently.

Over the years we had hours of conversations. It seemed that each one was longer than the last, yet they only seemed to be a few minutes long. We talked about the serious, the philosophical, the personal and the mundane. What really brought home to me that we were friends is that whether serious or not, each conversation had value.

Even when I was living in Africa we’d talk almost monthly for a few hours. And every time I flew to Los Angeles, no matter the reason, one thing was always was on the agenda. I’d make a pilgrimage to LaCienega and visit Barbara, or at the very least I would try to. Most of the time I succeeded and each time it was like we had just seen each other a few days earlier and were resuming the conversation from then.

Today’s drive into LA only served to remind me it will never happen again. It is gone, irretrievably gone. Nothing I can do will make it happen again. Barbara isn’t here. All I have are the memories, and those are precious to me and made more precious when I am able to share them with others and to hear what they had to share.

There is a wonderful scene in 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥 when a young boy on a bicycle looks down on resort that Howard Roark built. He doesn’t know Roark was the architect when he approaches him. The boy is mesmerized by the buildings and wants to know if it is a movie set, or is it actually real. He wants to know who built it.

The boy thanks Roark. Ayn wrote, “Roark looked after him. He had never seen that boy before and he would never see him again. He did not know that he had given someone the courage to face a lifetime.”

If I may be so bold as to paraphrase Ayn in regards to the last three decades of knowing Barbara. She had given me a friendship to last a lifetime.

Ayn was once asked about death and she replied with something along the line that it is not she who will die, but the world, and that’s a shame because it’s a wonderful world.

I would be bold to disagree. I think death is not something that happens to us instantly, but a little at a time. By that I mean our “world,” much like the world Ayn was referring to, is taken from us in bits. The pieces of our lives slowly disappear. Family members die, friends die. The places we loved to visit change until we no longer recognize them. The music we remember is suddenly nostalgia. Every day little bits of us are lost. And then, one day, time snatches away the last thing we have — our memories — and we are gone.

But, even then I like to think that a part of our world still lives in the memories of others. Barbara’s world is still here because we remember her — and it. And, while I fully expect the day to come where my world is entirely gone, and no one will remember me from Adam, I would also bet it all that Barbara’s world will never entirely disappear. The world she helped create is one where some people, some where, at all times — as long as our species exists — will remember.


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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.