Saint Jack

Jonathan Clements

WITHOUT A DOUBT, John C. Bogle is the greatest man I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Tomorrow, the newspapers will run obituaries detailing his many accomplishments—how he launched Vanguard Group, started the first index mutual and was, right up until the end, a fierce advocate for the everyday investor.

I first met Jack in 1987, when I was a callow 24-year-old reporter at Forbes magazine. I last saw him in October, at the Bogleheads’ conference in Philadelphia. The day before, he had been in hospital. That didn’t stop him from turning up at the conference and dishing out his views on a host of financial topics.

But my favorite memory of Jack is from the early 2000s. I recounted that occasion in a letter included in a binder given to Jack to mark his 80th birthday. The letter was subsequently reprinted in a book about Jack, The Man in the Arena, edited by Knut Rostad. Here’s what I wrote:

Five or six years ago, when I was still with The Wall Street Journal, Jack called to say he was in the World Financial Center, he had a few minutes to spare and would it be okay if he stopped by. Soon enough, he was striding across the 10th floor newsroom, slightly stooped to be sure, but—like Cassius—he had that “lean and hungry look. He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

Giants of corporate America occasionally made their way through the Journal’s newsroom, but they typically moved quickly, lest lingering too long might invite awkward questions. Not Jack. He snagged a cubicle, commandeered a phone and, before long, had the ear of those around him. On display was the charisma and principles that built Vanguard. That I expected.

On that day, however, I saw another side of Jack Bogle. Here he was, conversing easily with my fellow ink-stained wretches, a motley crew of skeptical, disaffected ankle biters, who all believed themselves engaged in an important endeavor but would never dream of admitting as much. And Jack fit right in. It was as if one of us had made good and now was returning to the old neighborhood for a visit. This man might be a corporate visionary, but underneath he had the sensibilities of a newspaper reporter. It was at that moment that I realized why journalists loved Jack.

Farewell, John C. Bogle. You left the world a far, far better place than you found it and, for that, the rest of us will be forever grateful.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook. His most recent articles include Nursing DollarsBeyond Cheap and What Now. Jonathan’s latest book: From Here to Financial Happiness.

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