Friday, January 26, 2007

Dick Doran - Really RAD

Vince Fumo, Berle Schiller, Dick Doran, Milton Shapp & Yours Truly
in my kitchen at Beth's suprise birthday party, 1978

"Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter." Antoine de Saint-Exupery
You move through life taking family and friends for granted, thinking you have all the time in the world. Then, Wham. In a blink, they're gone.

Dick Doran died suddenly Monday. No illness, no warning. Just walked outside with his wife Mary after a performance of New York's Metropolitan Opera and died. It's hard to process. For so many reasons.

Others will review his prodigious career and many important contributions to politics, government and the arts. I weigh in from a different perspective.

Dick Doran was my first political boss. I was one of the idealistic cadre of young boomers who worked for the election and then the office of Governor Milton Shapp in the 70's. Dick was the governor's chief of staff ... to us, he was the grown-up.

Think Leo McGarry, though in retrospect Dick was much younger back then. But for many Shapp staffers it was their first full time job. Dick was more than a decade older, already married, professionally seasoned and wise.

We were like a big family in Harrisburg. Most of us had uprooted from Philly to the state capitol, some living on their own for the first time too. We all worked and played together, sometimes smoothly, sometimes fractiously, but always guided by the sure hand of RAD.

RAD, by the way, is the acronym for Richard A. Doran and literally became his signature. You knew you better jump when you got a memo, note or phone message with that familiar tag.

Looking back I realize it was a big responsibility riding herd over so many green, eager kids. And I also realize, through the prism of experience, how very well Dick managed it. He handled his young brood much like a big brother, sometimes with temper, often with encouragement, always with authority.

Dick brought out the best in us by making us reach for the best in ourselves. And by tapping into his boundless reservoir of humor, to show us how to be cocky and self-deprecating at the same time. (I wonder who might still have photos of Dick in a nun's habit at one of the Halloween parties in those Harrisburg years.)

Dick and I worked together briefly in the Philadelphia years when he was the city's Commerce Director and I was the ad agency account executive assigned to promote the city. But we formed a new bond with our regular bridge games, where I really got to know--and greatly admire--Mary Doran.

Mary Doran, Moi, Jeffery (Beth's ex, buh-bye) & Dick, aka the bridge group,
also in my kitchen, circa 1981

My best friend's then husband (she doesn't play bridge) and I would go to Dick and Mary's warm, cozy house after dinner on Thursday nights. I'd play with their little kids, Richard and Patrick, who always begged to stay up late. Mary would firmly head them off to bed. Dick would sit down at the piano and begin to play.

I think to myself now that his sons must have many memories of falling asleep to Dick's renditions of Claire de Lune and other classics. I hope those memories comfort them in some small way.

I learned some solid life lessons from Dick and Mary. I was single and clueless about what it took to make marriage and family work. They made it seem almost effortless. Two strong personalities merged in a lively and loving partnership.

Dick and I were bridge partners. I didn't realize it then, but his guidance in developing fluid cooperation and intuitive communication at the bridge table helped prepare me to bring all that and more into my professional career and my own marriage.

But wow, Dick was an aggressive, 'creative' bridge player. He followed the rules just as far as he absolutely had to, then took bold, calculated risks and found unusual paths to each intended goal.

He kept me hopping, mentally on my toes, anticipating, then bobbing and weaving to figure out and keep up with his constantly mobile strategies. I'm sure those who worked with Dick over the years can see the parallels to his consummate professional skills.

I last saw Dick about four weeks ago. We bumped into each other in our local post office. Such irony: he said he was feeling fit and feisty. He looked great. A bit slimmer and trimmer, still that ruddy Irish complexion and twinkle in the eye.

And that voice. So hard to describe, but such a standout. A bit gravelly, a hint of Philly accent, vibrant and deep, not so much bass as resonate.

Dick was excited about a new political venture. Asked if I might be interested in helping out. We chatted, caught up. I gave him some sad news about the death of a well-loved former friend and colleague.

We agreed to stay in touch, planned to get together with our spouses and another couple, close friends from the Harrisburg and the Curtis days. We told some stories too. And we laughed.

Dick's laugh. Such a singular sound. It seemed to erupt from inside his whole being. His laughter was robust, raucous, infectious. It drew you in, forced laughter out of you whether you knew the reason or not. As I write this, I can still hear it in my head.

We can try to take some comfort in knowing the last sounds Dick heard were the voices of Placido Domingo, the Met company and his own beloved Mary.

But for his family and friends, plus a myriad of charities, institutions and the city of Philadelphia, Dick Doran's special voice is now stilled. It will be sorely missed.

Rest in peace, Dick. It brings a small smile to think that Milt, Ron, Buddy, Shirley and all the others you're joining will soon be receiving heavenly memos signed RAD.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all thank you, Sally, especially Partick and me. This meant a lot to us.

10:55 AM  

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