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Remembering George

Louis Begley on his friend George Plimpton’s kind intellect, inimitable brio, and advice on horned owls.

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George Plimpton is not dead—whatever the doctors or the coroner may say. I feel him vibrantly and gloriously alive as I write in this room of his father Francis Plimpton’s law firm, where I am a partner; I hear his inimitable teasing voice impregnated with the music of Edith Wharton’s New York; I think that at any moment I will feel on my shoulder the touch of his hand conveying wordlessly affection and encouragement. On the table behind me lies the latest issue of The Paris Review, now in its 50th year. It arrived only yesterday. Leafing through it, I saw right away that the quality was as high as ever. And only two days ago, on Wednesday, at a party for my new book, George was enlightening me about great horned owls in eastern Long Island and how my cats should watch out for them. Those cats, who had befriended Laura and Olivia, George’s adorable twins.

The grief of George’s family is beyond imagining. But if the rest of us, his countless friends, many going back to St. Bernard’s, Exeter, and Harvard, the legion of writers he encouraged and published in The Paris Review, which he co-founded and tended lovingly, providing a unique platform from which new voices could be heard, if all the famous poets and breathless young interns dazzled by the magazine and George, if all the rest of us could be heard when the shock that numbs us now has worn off, the sound of our wailing would be prodigious.

I used to think that no occasion was truly festive unless George graced it by his presence. We are now in for an infinitely sad time. George had every intellectual gift, his prose was second to no one’s in elegance and wit, he was the most courteous man alive, and he had a heart of gold. There will not be anyone like him again, not in my lifetime.


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