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Missing James Q. Wilson

March 5, 2012 | 12:50 pm

James Q. WilsonAlmost once a month, for something like 10 years, I got to have dinner with Jim Wilson.

That's James Q. Wilson, the influential scholar and the "broken windows" theorist who died Friday in Massachusetts.

Jim and Roberta Wilson, married nearly 60 years when Jim died Friday, had returned to Los Angeles from Harvard in 1986 and were living in Pacific Palisades, not far from Jim's teaching positions at UCLA and at Pepperdine.

In time, they joined the book group that former Mayor Dick Riordan and I, along with attorney Bruce Merritt, began over 15 years ago.

Ours is a gabby bunch, many of us interrupting and talking over one another, but when Jim had something to say, everyone stopped to listen. He spoke vividly, precisely and concisely, and never with less than a fully reasoned and deeply insightful observation.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan had once assured President Nixon that James Q. Wilson was "the smartest man in the United States," so he was without doubt the smartest man at that dinner table.

I was always tickled whenever I wound up sitting next to Jim, for the pleasure of the droll sotto voce asides he'd sometimes make about the main conversation raging over the book we had all just read.

We disagreed on some books but found ourselves aligned on others. I was so pleased to have introduced him to a book that he later told me had become a favorite: Jay Winik's "April 1865: The Month That Saved America." And during the memorable and voluble evening when we all went hammer and tongs over one of the who-wrote-Shakespeare books,  he and I were on the same side -- the Shakespeare-wrote-Shakespeare side -- against our  British dinner companions who believed so ordinary-seeming a man could not have written such extraordinary plays.

The months when Jim and Roberta weren't at our book group, they had gone off on a lecture or book tour or on family visits, riding horses in the mountains or snorkeling -- or was it scuba diving? -- in some exotic waters.

They moved back to Massachusetts a few years ago to be closer to their family. We all missed his sage and sensible presence. With his death, I am reminded exactly how much. 


Ripping off Los Angeles

L.A.'s mayor under the microscope

James Q. Wilson: A political scientist's unswerving honesty

--Patt Morrison

Photo: James Q. Wilson is shown in Boston in this 1972 file photo. Credit: AP Photo, File

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