David Nehamkin

Penny and I found out yesterday that our friend and mentor David Nehamkin passed away.

Our hearts sank for ourselves, because we'll miss him, but especially for his family, whom he loved above all else.

In addition to being kind-hearted, generous and wise, David was the best writer I ever met.

More times than I could count, when the rest of us were stuck and harboring little hope of meeting the deadline without resorting to a mediocre idea, he would effortlessly spout the perfect phrasing or ideal insight that simultaneously saved the day and humbled us all.

"It's okay," Charlie would say to me as I shook my head in amazement. "He's better than me, too."

No one understood how David's brain could work that way. We just felt lucky to have him on our side. So to hear him say -- to me and to others -- that he believed in me, that he saw something there, well, sometimes that was all I had, and it was plenty.

David was my mentor. It was sort of an assignment and sort of a bait-and-switch. He promised Young & Laramore when they hired me for my first job in advertising that he would take me under his wing, oversee my development, nurture my skills... basically, make sure I didn't screw anything up.

Once they'd hired me, though, he smiled his sly smile and told me: "You don't need a mentor. You're smart enough and talented enough. Just go ahead and do the job."

It was a lie, of course. I did need a mentor, and he did take me under his wing. He just told me I didn't need him to, and I very much appreciated this charitable deceit.

I watched him work on Goodwill ads, putting words in the mouth of Marcus, the wholesome, goofy delivery guy, and I watched him work on Steak n Shake, writing placemats and print ads in the voice we described as "Gus Belt meets Bugs Bunny."

One Spring I saw David create a wonderful, thoughtful campaign for an order of nuns who desperately needed some new recruits. With my Irish Catholic background, I was initially given the assignment, but David grumbled (wittily, of course) about being "passed over on Easter." I couldn't be mad when they gave him the job instead, and especially not when he did it better than I possibly could have.

David gave his talents to so many people -- some deserving; others not so much -- from giant corporations to Jewish film festivals to everyday shmoes like me who stand in the drug store aisle and try to pick out a good birthday card.

He wrote for American Greetings for many years, putting language to emotions as only he could. Goodness knows -- heck, maybe David knows, now -- how many hapless clods got to use his words to express their feelings. We should all be so lucky.

Thank you, David. You showed me how to write. You did many, many other things for me, things I won't even realize for years, but that alone -- that was enough. More than enough. Thank you.

And hey, I was thinking ... all that talent and brilliance of yours ... since you're not using it anymore, would you mind letting me borrow it?

I've got a friend I need to say goodbye to.


Anonymous said...

o, Colin. David taught you well. I'm so sorry for your loss, but happy for what you gained by knowing him.

lots of love, Wee xoxo

Thomas said...

Sorry for your loss, Colin and Penny, and to the family of David too. That's sad, but I hope when I go that I have that kind of effect on a younger generation too. That's our only thing we can leave behind right? A memory...

kelly said...

such a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. such a blessing to receive gifts in our lives like that.

susanna said...

That was a really beautiful, personal tribute to your friend, Colin. Brought tears to my eyes. Wish I could have met him.

Goddess of Leonie said...

that is deeply touching and beautiful...

blessings on david's journey forth :)

Kim Carney said...

That is a sweet tribute to a wonderful friend. I am sorry for his passing, your loss

Anonymous said...

Dear Colin- Thank you so much for your wonderful tribute. Just when I thought I had used up all the tears, there were more when I read your words. You and Penny meant a lot to David. David very much respected your talents which was why he enjoyed his role as a mentor to you. Fortunately we will have his words and ads to remember him by. Also his voice- that is what I will miss the most. I hope they continue playing his Silver in theCity commercials indefinitely. Thanks again for your tribute. His family has picked it up and are touched by your words. yours, Ivy

Colin said...


I'm so glad this reached you, and that I got the chance to say how much your husband illuminated our lives. Like everyone else, Penny and I trade David stories all the time... it seems we all have so many of those to share.

It's also funny - I'm noticing that each person who knew him well seemed to feel like we were the only ones who knew what a big heart David had, like his genius was common knowledge but his goodness was *our* little secret.

In these days we discover how beloved he really was.

I'll miss his voice too.

Strength, hope, and peace to you, and to Aaron and Mitchell.



Anonymous said...

David and I were very close friends from 7th grade on. We still kept in touch after I moved to Israel after college, but then we drifted apart except for a short time around our 30th high school reunion. Can someone tell me what happened? My deepest sympathies to Ivy and the boys.
Hedy Saltz Rennert

Anonymous said...

Hedy -
My understanding was that David suffered a heart attack and could not be revived.

It's terrible to find out like this, but I can't help being jealous that you've known him so long - I bet he was the coolest 7th-grader ever.

If you'd like to contact Ivy, I think her address is ivlneh@aol.com


Terri (Nehamkin) Ganley said...

Penny and Colin,

I accidently ran across this site today while looking for something. David was my first cousin, we were born 7 days apart, and grew up together spending many weekends and family vacations entertaining one another. Like anyone who knew him, I miss him deeply. I'm grateful that he had Ivy, Rachel, and the boys to share his life. It was truly a miracle and most fitting that he would have closest to him these most gentle, loving people. But It warms my heart to find that he also had people like you in his life who cared for him as much as we did.

Terri (Nehamkin) Ganley