We wince a bit when we hear about some public edifice being ceremoniously named for a living person.
Not that we think our contemporaries are undeserving. Local roads have been named for U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry M. Smith (retired) and former Congressman Doug Barnard – and a stretch of I-20 for former Gov. Carl Sanders. It’s just that they are such exemplary leaders that, well, you just can’t go wrong.
But in other cases there’s a latent danger. When you name a building after someone in your midst, that person could resurface under sad or shocking circumstances, turning an honor into an embarrassment. You’d better be doggone sure, is all.
Which brings us to Patrick J. Sullivan Jr.
Sullivan retired in 2002 after spending 19 years as the sheriff of Arapahoe County, Colo., in suburban Denver. He’s been honored for his heroism. He’s a nationally acknowledged expert on cyberterrorism. He won the Sheriff of the Year honor in 2001 from the National Sheriff Association.
Now he’s been arrested. Sullivan faces charges that he dealt methamphetamine, and tried to trade the drug with a man in exchange for sex.
Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. is being held in Arapahoe County’s jail – or, as it’s officially known, the Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Facility.
TV journalist John Stossel coined the pun “edifice complex” to describe the phenomenon – and potential folly – of naming things after people who are still alive. Perhaps it’s best to wait for a dignified death to bestow such an honor, to assure the honor doesn’t collapse into an ignominious joke.