His name was John Phillips Britton, and over the years he became very important in the development of my thinking. He helped me to understand how the world of politics intersected with the world of finance.
We only met in person once, but he always seemed to reappear in my life right when I was trying to sort something out that appeared opaque and impenetrable. He’d say something to adjust my thinking with a zen-like precision that led to a new level of insight. His observations were illuminating and acute, and always spot on.
John was also one of the world’s few living experts on 5th century B.C. Babylonian Astronomy. He held a Ph.D from Yale from the Philosophy of Science department, and he used to joke that he could just be making it all up and there was nobody alive who would know the difference.
I very much enjoyed his company, and the time he took to educate me. I liked “thinking through” things with him. I always wanted to do justice to the effort he made to help me. I trusted him and respected him absolutely.
John had an idea in the early days of FDL that we should have a membership organization. It was one of those suggestions I stored in the back of my head with the firm intention of getting to some day, but never did. Then a couple of months ago, Jon Walker began saying much the same thing. Suddenly a switch flipped in my head and I thought “I need to call Gosprey.”
We got on the phone and talked for a couple of hours. I hadn’t spoken with him in a while and it was great just to hear his voice. He was happy I was finally getting around to exploring his idea, and I was delighted to use him as a sounding board on a variety of matters. We agreed to meet for lunch in New York some time in the next couple of weeks.
But “some time” never came. It wasn’t long after that I got an email from “John Britton,” with the notice of a memorial service for…John Britton.
I couldn’t understand what was going on. I’d heard of people having wakes for themselves before they died, but it seemed rather out of character for Gosprey, reserved New Englander that he was.
I replied to ask what was happening, and received a response from his son who apologized for the confusion — his name was also John Britton, and he wanted me to know of his father’s passing. I thanked him very much for thinking of me, and told him I would try to make it to the funeral.
The overall effect, however, was rather like being tapped on the shoulder by a ghost, and told to get myself hence.
So I’m on the train for New York right now. I’ll be attending Gosprey’s funeral tonight both as his friend, and on behalf of the FDL community.
What else could I do? I would never take Gosprey’s exhortations lightly — from either side of the grave.
Rest in peace, John Phillips Britton. You had a lasting impact on my life, and you will be missed.