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I was very sad to learn that Kevin Lippert died Match 29, after a long and brave struggle with cancer. I knew he was ill. I knew in recent months he was fighting mightily against an ever-encroaching brain cancer. I knew it wasn’t looking good. It was still a shock to hear the news. It still struck home. He was a wonderful man, a generous man, a rare man.
I met him fifteen years ago at a parent-teacher conference at the New York high school both his son and my daughter attended. I liked him instantly. He had the most striking combination of a piercing intellect and a genuine sweetness. I learned that he was the founder and publisher of Princeton Architectural Press, a small, highly-regarded house that published books on architecture, design, and, in general, the creative spirit. The Press’s offices were on East 7th Street in New York City, in my old neighborhood in the East Village. Kevin and I got to know one another, and I would visit him in the Press’s small, jammed brownstone offices on East 7th Street. He always took me to lunch, and he always picked up the check. He was a friend to writers, and he was well aware they had little money, and were often hungry.
I admired him greatly. He had made a success of Princeton Architectural Press (until it was coldly wrested from him), and that is not a small thing. He did it with the books he loved and esteemed.
I can’t begin to tell you how much he helped me through the years. Every chance he could, he would boost my writing. He attended my readings, he linked me to people in the publishing world he knew, he even somehow found a way to give me a gig with his press, despite my having no sound knowledge of architecture. I wrote the introduction to one of his books. (The book was about an outsider artist, and so my not having a background in architecture didn’t harm the house’s reputation.) And, guess what, that introduction eventually landed me on NPR. Kevin always had some help for me up his sleeve. He never asked for anything in return, never even hinted at that. I will always be grateful.
In many ways, he taught me how to live. How to be a good person in this world. I try to follow his example.
I would see him in Maine from time to time. I taught there in the summer. He vacationed there. The last time I saw him, in fact, was in Maine, in Rockport, when he was on his way home. The cancer he had routed years earlier had returned. He was a bit unsteady, and that was alarming. Still, it was lovely to see him. He hadn’t lost his wry humor.
Someone once asked Alfred Hitchcock why he so liked working with Thornton Wilder, the playwright, on one of his movies. Hitchcock said, “I was touched by his qualities.”
I was touched by Kevin’s qualities. I always will be.
P.S., The New York Times published a terrific obituary about Kevin April 17.