One evening about two years ago, I was at Paul Volcker’s Manhattan apartment when the phone rang. It was Ray Dalio, the billionaire hedge fund manager, inviting Paul and his wife, Anke, to join him at the ballet on some future date. Soon after, Paul said that he and Anke had to leave for Brooklyn. They were attending a wake for his barber.

I walked home that evening, as I did after every meeting as we worked on his memoir, thinking about what a truly remarkable man he was. Of course, he was best known for his great public accomplishments: He was the point man at the Treasury Department in 1971 who managed the dollar’s untethering from gold; he quelled the double-digit inflation that took root in the U.S. in the late 1970s; he helped guide the country’s response to the 2008 financial crisis.

But what struck me, again and again, was how he treated people.

In the last three years of his life, I had the privilege of getting to spend time with him. A publisher had recruited me to help him write his memoir. The idea was that I would interview him at his home and office over the course of a few months and somehow shape the transcripts into a narrative. That wasn’t quite what happened.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has described his own initial encounter with Paul back in the early 1990s, just a few years after Volcker’s eight-year tenure as chairman. “I was frightened of even meeting him, I was so intimidated by this global figure,” Powell said. “And he couldn’t have been nicer and more interested in helping me and supporting me.”

That was my experience, too. At 6-feet, 7-inches, with a world-famous scowl, Paul could be a forbidding presence. I was anxious when I went to his Rockefeller Center office for the first time, braced for stern questioning or withering judgment. So the surprise was how much he smiled, and how as he told stories, he chuckled -- a lot.

He took me on without hesitation, and gave me some homework: A copy of “Changing Fortunes,” his 1992 book with Toyoo Gyohten, and a set of compact discs with hours of interviews he’d conducted for the Federal Reserve’s oral history project. He didn’t tell me to read the three biographies -- William Silber’s from 2012, Joseph B. Treaster’s from 2004, and William R. Neikirk’s from 1987 -- but of course I did.

With so much already out there, why write a memoir? It was the summer of 2017. A few years earlier, he had founded the Volcker Alliance to help make government more effective. The biographies were tuned to particular episodes: his role in severing the dollar’s link to gold; his conquest of inflation; the management of financial crises. This book would cover all of that, briefly, but focus on his life’s true mission, which was creating a civil service so competent and responsive that it could restore the public’s trust in government.

That was a calling he had inherited from his father, an engineer who became the first non-partisan town manager in New Jersey, in Cape May and then in Teaneck. Paul revered his father, and told stories about his heroic feats. When local politicians tried to meddle, Paul Sr. took them to court and won. He served as the town engineer for free, and cut his own pay during the Depression. He made Teaneck famous as the lowest-crime town in America. It was picked as the U.S. Army’s model for occupied countries after World War II.

His son lived up to that example -- on a global stage.

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