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Farewell to an ethical giant

By Robert Ringer

On Aug. 11, 1991, Jack Pugsley was in the passenger seat, sound asleep, in the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately, the driver of the car fell asleep as well, and the next thing Jack remembered was waking up in the hospital with a broken neck. His injury was a fraction of an inch from causing his death.

The thought that I could have lost such a dear friend was unsettling to me, and I was relieved that he ultimately recovered and continued to share his unique insights into life and economics with so many of his friends and subscribers to his various publications.

Every year on Aug. 11, the anniversary date of his accident, I emailed Jack to congratulate him for his triumph over the Grim Reaper. My most recent email exchange with him on that subject was on Aug. 11, 2010:

One year away from your 20th anniversary. Life may not always be perfect, but it’s a lot better than what the alternative could have been.

Robert

Jack answered, in part:

Ha! Yeah, what a day that was. And what a memory you have, Robert! … I regularly ponder that thought … suppose I didn’t have the experiences of the past 19 years … since I wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t know what I missed, eh?

Thanks, old friend …

Jack

Typical Jack … dry humor, intellectual, philosophical to the core.

Jack and I had been toying with the idea of updating and marketing an old audio course of his, but due to our overloaded schedules we hadn’t made much progress.

In early February of this year, I emailed him to see if he was making any progress on editing the program. When I didn’t hear back from him, I was concerned, so I sent a follow-up email on Feb. 19 that said:

Hey … you’re scaring us.  Are you OK?  Alive, I hope?

Robert

In less than two hours, he answered:

Nope, not alive, died and went to heaven. Communication very difficult from here. Internet connection sporadic. No phones, of course. In truth, the “heaven” I’m in is in Costa Rica … trying to get some writing done …

So, I hope you’re as relaxed as I’m becoming. Remember, this is our only life (oops, I forgot that you may not believe that). Be well.

Warm (and I mean really warm) wishes …

Jack

Good old Jack. You could always count on him to stay alive and keep sharing his great humor and razor-sharp mind with you. After I received Jack’s email, I happened to mention to my wife that I thought Jack would live well into his 90s because he always took such good care of himself.

Alas, I was wrong. About three weeks later, on March 14, Jack suffered a heart attack, and, after a 10-hour emergency surgery, he was unconscious for much of the next several weeks.

Then, on April 8, at 6:43 a.m., Jack passed away. I was stunned. I will never get over his death.

I’m sorry if you didn’t know Jack, because you missed out on one of those rare individuals whose words and actions made you believe that perhaps there is still hope for humankind. There is so much I would like to tell you about Jack that it could literally fill a book.

Yielding to space constraints, however, perhaps the best way I can acquaint you with him, if you were not fortunate enough to have known him, is to reprint just one paragraph from his famous “Open Letter to Harry Browne.” It was written in response to Harry’s announcement that he planned to seek the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.

Perhaps the single most important thing a person can do (before he sets out to improve others) is to improve himself. Become a model citizen. Don’t use government to attack your neighbor, even if you don’t like his dog or the color of his house or the color of his skin. If you want to stop others from aggressing through the political process, start by excising from your own life all vestiges of comfort and support for political aggression.

What he said here is exactly the way Jack lived his life. View the entire letter here.

One last item I feel obliged to mention, because it was such an integral part of Jack’s life, was his insistence that he was a hard-core atheist. I always found this interesting, because many of us who were close to him saw him as one of the most spiritual people we had ever known. He may not have believed in organized religion, but I know of no one whose actions were more aligned with Judeo-Christian principles than Jack Pugsley.

I have always said that there are two kinds of atheists. First, there are the angry atheists, who not only are angry at God for allowing evil to exist, but are also angry at everyone who believes in His existence. Second are the live-and-let-live atheists who go about their business of non-believing with no desire to lash out at either God or those who believe in Him.

Jack was most decidedly in the latter group. He was kind, respectful and gracious to an extreme. But when I think of Jack, the one word that comes to mind is ethical. In a world filled with charlatans, Jack was an ethical giant. When push came to shove, he always chose ethics over money.

Jack and I joked a lot about the issue of atheism versus belief in God, but on one occasion I said to him, “I’d like to have a serious discussion with you about the possibility that there is a Higher Being guiding the universe, but I can’t do it if you have a closed mind.”

I have often quoted Jack’s response: “To even consider the possibility of a Higher Being would destroy the very foundation upon which I have built my entire life.”

When Jack said this, I recalled Viktor Frankl saying that he did not believe God would punish someone just because he mistakenly believed He did not exist. Now, with Jack Pugsley’s passing, Frankl’s words seem more credible to me than ever.

Jack, dear friend, thank you for enriching my life for more than three decades. And if, by chance, heaven does have an Internet connection, please email me often. I’m already having terrible withdrawal symptoms.

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