Thomas L. Knapp

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On the passing of a friend
by Thomas L. Knapp

Many libertarians never had the privilege of making George Mussmann's acquaintance; those who did found that their lives were, indeed, improved and made more full by the friendship of a man whose contributions to the cause of human freedom were many and powerful.

George was possessed of two qualities that, in most people, bring about an inner conflict: a true dedication to libertarian ideas, and a hard-headed, practical approach to problem-solving. In George, though, these two qualities were complementary rather than combative, and the strength of both was enhanced by his total commitment to truth. These qualities served both George and the libertarian movement well.

George didn't write a shelf full of books. He didn't run for president. He didn't stalk the talk show circuit or put out a continuous stream of "silver bullet" suggestions for changing society or the libertarian movement. What George did was far more valuable. He worked, and he insisted that doing so was the only way to get things done. Some of us learned that lesson from him, however often it may have subsequently slipped our minds.

When George chaired a meeting, participants knew when it would begin, when it would end and what would happen in between. When the time for the meeting came, he banged the gavel -- and anyone lollygagging over coffee in the lobby was just out of luck. If the agenda called for ten minutes of debate on a resolution, debate ended in ten minutes, not twelve. Those who were unprepared to argue their case in the amount of time scheduled didn't get a break. Not surprisingly, George's meetings were the most productive I've ever attended.

Similarly, George himself made a habit of, as a carpenter would say, "measuring twice and cutting once." When he spoke to an issue, he was generally not the first to do so. He was often, however, the last ... because he took the time to bring together his facts and apply sound reasoning before piping up and putting the argument to bed, to the benefit of everyone, his "opponents" included.

It's impossible to judge just how "full" the life of another has been, but George lived a life that, by any standard, was one of accomplishment. He served in the U.S. Navy. He retired as a principal manager of McDonnell Douglas. He served as alderman, mayor and chairman of the Public Works Commission of O'Fallon, Missouri, where he lived until his death. He was active in the Missouri and St. Charles County Libertarian Parties, the latter of which he helped build into the most active in the state, and was often the moving force who pulled together events such as state conventions and made them into successes.

In the last few years of his life, George was often unable to attend the activities that his work made possible; when he left his home, he had to drag an oxygen tank with him. The only emphasis that I ever heard him place on this handicap was when he encouraged others -- myself included -- to give up smoking. I always got the impression that, more than anything, he was annoyed by that tank's impact on his ability to get things done, and determined to prevent others from coming up against that particular roadblock.

And that, in a nutshell, was George. It would be a mistake to think of him as altruistic or self-sacrificing. He was something else. When he made a suggestion, or undertook a task, or supported a cause with his good name, his work or his money, it was because he cared deeply about what he was doing and about the people he was doing it with, and wanted to see things not just wished, but accomplished.

All who knew George will miss him terribly. Those who did not will miss the work he did, whether they ever knew of it or not.

May 4, 2003