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Conor Beck, R.I.P.

Conor was a happy warrior for freedom. He will be deeply missed.

One of the joys of working for The College Fix is watching young people begin their professional lives. You don’t expect to see them end.

Yet that’s what happened when 27-year-old Conor Beck died on October 8.

We placed Conor near the top of the webpage where we brag about notable alumni. We did this partly because we were pleased to see him flourish as a communications project manager at the Institute for Justice. We also put Conor there because we really liked him. He was impossible not to like.

A native of Maine, Conor became a writer for The College Fix as he pursued his degree in chemical engineering at Rice University. His most memorable article for us probably was his coverage of the “massive group hug” organized by his school following the presidential-election victory of Donald Trump in 2016.

“We enjoyed a good chuckle over that,” said Fix editor Jennifer Kabbany. “Conor emerged as a smart and talented reporter, willing to do the work to hone his craft, quick to suggest story ideas, and eager and willing to tackle wherever the news took him. I loved his positive attitude and easy-going nature. He is just one of the nicest young men I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with over the years.”

The College Fix sponsored a summer fellowship for Conor at the Weekly Standard in 2016. After he graduated from Rice, Conor became a writer at the Washington Free Beacon. His editor at both publications was Victorino Matus, deputy editor of the Beacon and a member of the Fix’s advisory board.

“He was a good kid—a hard worker, thoughtful, and kind to his colleagues,” Matus said.

Next Conor joined the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm that fights governmental abuse of power. He worked in communications under J. Justin Wilson, chairman of the board of the Student Free Press Association, the nonprofit behind The College Fix.

“He’s been an incredible colleague,” Wilson said. “Across the country there are small business owners, and parents, and ordinary citizens who know Conor as the guy who helped save their business or win their kids a better education or get their money back. He helped them find their voice and made sure their community knew that they were standing up for what is right.”

Conor enjoyed fighting the good fight.

“One of Conor’s defining characteristics what his earnestness,” Wilson said. “He approached every case or project he took on with conviction. His clients became his friends. We’re only just beginning to identify and reach out to the many lives he changed for the better.”

Conor was a happy warrior for freedom. This in fact is my main impression of him: He was always the happiest guy in the room, easy with a smile and a laugh.

“On the darkest of days his attitude was resolute and hopeful—I realize that sounds a bit over the top, but it is true,” Wilson said. “He was always looking for silver linings. I don’t think there is a silver lining to losing him, or if there is, I’m having a difficult time finding it.”

Conor was a regular at the annual Washington D.C. dinner of The College Fix, including the one we held in July. I saw him again last month in Atlanta, at the conference of the State Policy Network. We made plans to meet up and talked for about 15 minutes, before I had to run off to a meeting. Our topics of conversation included the merits of various baseball stadiums. He was a fan of the Boston Red Sox.

When a 27-year-old dies, the first question is always the same: How? And there’s no getting around the uncomfortable fact of what his obituary plainly states: “Conor died from an apparent accidental drug overdose.”

A logical follow-up question is: Why?

Perhaps it’s because someone now will learn from his tragic mistake. Yet the deeper question is a lot tougher.

Conor was impossible not to like. He will be even harder not to miss.

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