George Arvidson

George Arvidson died the other day. Most of you probably didn’t know him. I barely did. He floated around my legal career as an older fellow lawyer, but we rarely had contact. I picture him in the courthouse with his traditional suit, glasses, and an easy smile. A defense lawyer down to his toes. But he and I never tangled and only shared an easy “hi” as we passed through the doors of a courtroom. Professional acquaintances at best. “That’s George Arvidson,” was the extent of our relationship.

And the years passed.

Eventually I retired and set aside my prosecutor clothes. I found myself on a barstool in the Greenwood Lounge next to my friend Jim Duncan.

I’ll be darned if it wasn’t George Arvidson sitting to my right.

“How’s your wife?” he asked.

What? He doesn’t even know my wife.

“How’s your wife?” he repeated. “Is she still prosecuting war criminals in The Hague?”

I had never realized how deep George’s voice was and how it was wrapped in a quiet softness. I leaned in to catch his words. His shoulders were bent, his head was down, he smiled a lot.

He wanted to know about me, my wife, my retirement, my writing. He wanted to talk politics and law and life. Everything was on the table. He had an opinion, but he wanted to hear mine. Of course, everyone has their own issues, but he seemed genuinely interested in me and my concerns. And then he needed to go. “Better get home and see what the little lady has for dinner,” he jokingly said.

A brief moment in time. I chalked it up as a fluke of kindness.

A month later, I’m again at the Greenwood Lounge before suppertime. Jim Duncan on my left. George on my right.

“How’s your wife?”

It was as if it was a mantra. The way to begin a heart-felt discussion. And the questioning began. The same as last time — wanting to know about my life, my thoughts, my worries. Then home George went for supper with his wife.

I returned weeks later. Yup, there he was again.

“How’s your wife?”

This was no fluke. A truly kind, caring, curious man, George sat next to me on the barstool. He sat without judgement or agenda. He sat comfortable in his own silence and openness to mine. Unbelievable.

So, here I am, back in The Hague with my wife, who’s again prosecuting war criminals. Sadly, just the other day, my friend Jim Duncan sent me a mournful note. George passed.

There is a therapeutic notion about a “cut-off.” The idea is that whenever you last leave a bad or problematic situation, by running away or having no contact, the geographic separation will not solve any of the problems. And if brought back together, even years later, you will find yourself with all the same problems as at the point of cut-off. You know what I mean?  But does the reverse hold true? If the last time you were with someone and it was good, and then there is a geographic cut-off, is it forever good? Do you always return to that moment in the past? Does that good moment, no matter how small, last forever?

I want to think so.

Before I last left town, I saw George at the Greenwood Lounge. He was bright and spirited as I sat beside him. He leaned in, he asked his questions about us returning to The Hague, he listened. And then he left early, as he always did, to get home for supper with his wife.

He stopped next to my chair.

“Joe, be sure to tell your wife I wish her well.” And he shook my hand.

More kind words from a kind man. No surprise. And, of course, these are his last words to me in this life. Who knew?

And then George left.

By the way, I get it, these are small kindnesses George offered. Nothing earth-shattering. No exploding rockets commemorating great deeds of bravery. No rescuing of widows and small children. Just those small kindnesses that change everything.


To this day I can see George, head bent, shoulders stooped, heading out the back door of the Greenwood Lounge.

“Better get home and see what the little lady has for dinner.”

Yes, you’d better, George, because you’re running late.

May his soul rest in peace.









6 thoughts on “George Arvidson

  1. “Just those small kindnesses that change everything” That line touched me, Joe, because there don’t seem to be many of those small kindnesses anymore. What’s happened to us? Lovely eulogy for a man who might have been an adversary, but turned out to be a friend..

  2. Beautiful! Would that my obituary were as eloquent. And, yes, I want to believe that those small kindnesses return, always.

  3. Hi. Ran across your ‘I am Iowa’ article in the new and improved Cityview today. I liked it very much. Just putting this out to you. I wish for someone in our city council or elsewhere to start a movement to remove Wells Fargo’s name from our Events Center and replace it( even if it costs money ) with Robert D.Ray’s. When the irredeemable show their true selves, they should be taken down, pay for the thefts they’ve committed and then relegated to past history, not forgotten and not forgiven.

  4. Two things: 1) it’s forever good… so simple and so true. Kindness, listening are the keys to instilling respect, and graceful hope within each of us..2) did your wife participate in CharlesTaylor’s genocide prosecution at The Hague? His ‘soldiers’ murdered my two aunts and 3 of their colleagues in Liberia. They were nuns serving the children and families of Monrovia and were killed October 20th and Oct 23rd. It shattered so many.. I never understood why the man identified as their killer is still walking the streets of Liberia..but I wanted to thank your wife and her colleagues at The Hague International Court for their prosecution of Taylor. He destroyed a beautiful country.. and the dreams of many Liberians and this particular Iowan. Shirley Kolmer was my idol, who I wanted to be when I grew up..In glad I found your blog…thank you thank you…

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