Whitney L. Ball, who died Sunday at 52, was one of the true heroes of the conservative movement. Like just about everyone else who heads a conservative organization, I have plenty of nice things to say for the way she worked tirelessly to advance liberty and help build just about every conservative organization in town. (R Street included.)

I’d like to share a more personal story that I hope shows her human side, too. While I had “known” Whitney as a face at conservative gatherings for over a decade, I don’t think I ever sat down with her for an extended conversation until shortly after I co-founded R Street.

We met for breakfast at an Alexandria hotel. After some pleasantries and launched into a discussion that ended up focusing on the philosophical roots of R Street and the history of the intellectual conservative movement. She was quizzing me intensively; probably testing to see if I really had the chops to run a think tank.

Our food came. A grapefruit on my plate, which looked fine, tasted awful; I took one bite, probably grimaced a bit and continued a rather intense discussion about Hayek. At a first-ever business meeting, I decided it would be unbecoming to complain about the food. In any case, she appeared not to notice.

However, when a waiter came to refill our drinks, she was firm. Very gently and politely, she said: “I think there is something wrong with my friend’s breakfast; his grapefruit isn’t very good.” The waiter fixed things quickly. I’ll never forget it: In a moment of intense conversation about weighty issues, she had taken the time to care about a tiny annoyance I was facing.

We had breakfast a few more times over the years and I always walked away impressed and energized. She’ll be missed.

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