Respects and tributes are pouring out for longtime privacy professional Kurt Wimmer, CIPP/E, CIPP/US, who died April 2 at age 62 following a bout with cancer. Wimmer most recently co-chaired Covington & Burling’s global data privacy and cybersecurity practice in Washington, D.C., but his overall presence in the privacy space left an indelible mark.
"He was a brilliant lawyer, a talented writer and a longstanding and trusted adviser to many of our clients," said IAPP Senior Westin Research Fellow Jetty Tielemans, a colleague of Wimmer's for years at Covington. "Kurt was passionate about his work and accepted nothing less than excellence from every member of the team. He was an exceptional colleague and a mentor to many of our younger lawyers.
"But perhaps most importantly, Kurt was a warm and caring person. He made you feel welcome and an important part of the team, no matter how small your contribution to a project. He was confident in his abilities and calm and resilient in moments of stress."
Wimmer described himself as a "privacy and technology lawyer with the great good fortune to be working with the companies that I love and that present constantly evolving challenges." Among those clients were Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung and other multinationals, in addition to non-traditional clients, like the National Football League and National Hockey League.
Wimmer also enjoyed photojournalism and music, often pitting the two passions together. He noted in his biography that he started his career as a photojournalist and continued with freelance photography, "especially music (back when we could go to concerts.)" He even documented the "Juggalo March on Washington, DC" in 2017.
He took a hiatus from his time at Covington to serve as senior vice president and general counsel of media company Gannett and was also a board member at nonprofit research foundation the Media Institute, chairing its First Amendment advisory council.
"We are extremely saddened by the passing of our good friend Kurt Wimmer," Media Institute President Rick Kaplar said in a statement. "We had the pleasure of working with Kurt since 1999, and during that time he advanced the mission and goals of the Institute in myriad ways. We will miss his fine legal mind and his principled approach to public policy. But most of all we will miss the good and decent person he was, and the trusted friend he became.”
Tielemans noted Wimmer was a mentor to many younger lawyers, saying Covington "heard many testimonies from lawyers who set their first steps on the long road to a successful legal career under Kurt's guidance."
U.S. Naval Academy Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity Jeff Kosseff, CIPP/US, was among those who were drawn to Wimmer's guiding light.
"Working with Kurt on a project did not feel like work because I was always learning so much from him," said Kosseff, who cut his teeth in the legal field while working under Wimmer at Gannett and Covington. "He had a unique mix of expertise in First Amendment law and privacy law, and that really made him an exceptionally well-rounded practitioner. And he was the kindest person I've ever worked with. He took a sincere interest in all of the associates' professional development and personal well-being."
Kosseff lauded Wimmer's generosity, recalling when he was putting the finishing touches on his Section 230 book, "The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet," and reached out to Wimmer to help with some clarifications.
"There were a few legal details that I wanted a second opinion on, so I asked Kurt to look them over, as he was one of the nation's leading experts on digital speech law," Kosseff explained. "Rather than only giving me feedback on the few questions I asked, within a few days he sent pages of incredibly helpful suggestions for the entire manuscript. I can't even imagine how much time it took him to do this."
The kindness Wimmer showed extended beyond professional courtesies. Former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Nicole Wong, who first got to know Wimmer when they both served on the American Bar Association's Forum on Communications Law Governing Committee, remembered one of those non-business moments she shared with Wimmer in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the early 2000s.
"I had just come back from maternity leave with my first child. Kurt, as always, was warm and welcoming," Wong said. "In his soft-spoken voice, he told me how much fun it is to be a parent and that he was so excited to take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon with his then-teenage son later that day.
"Kurt answered every email, every call asking for help or advice, from where to send my kids to school to navigating global internet regulations. Even when he must have been impossibly busy, he was always gracious, kind and generous. There are lots of brilliant lawyers, but Kurt modeled being a whole person."
Photo by Yousef Espanioly on Unsplash
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