Our classmate, Dave Means, died at age 79 on Sept. 21, 2008, after a short illness. The cause was metastatic cancer, which finally caught up with him. At the end, he was still looking forward to a trip through the Panama Canal, with his wife, Nancy, and Joanie and Buzz Hardy ’50, with whom they often traveled.
Dave grew up in Lebanon, Pa., and came to Amherst from the Taft School. He excelled at golf, a lifelong passion, and in our junior year, he got rave reviews for organizing and running the spectacular college wide Mardi Gras. As a member of Psi Upsilon, he played intramural sports and sang in the famous Psi U house quartet of Steadman, Spaulding, Esty and Means.
In senior year, Dave heeded a mysterious invitation from Dean Bacon to meet with “U.S. Government” officials for a job interview at the Lord Jeff. It turned out they were recruiters for the newly formed C.I.A., which Dave joined for a three-year hitch during the Korean War. At his memorial service in New Canaan, Conn., his son, David, commented, that “here was a guy who had a fear of heights but was able to lean out the door of airplanes pushing out commandos to parachute behind enemy lines in North Korea.”
After the C.I.A., in 1953 Dave joined the Philadelphia advertising firm of N. W. Ayer & Son and moved with them to New York in 1974. He rose through the ranks to become executive vice president and chief administrative officer until his retirement in1989. One of his greatest achievements was the classic and award-winning campaign for the U. S. Army Command headlined “Be All That You Can Be—in the Army.” Dave’s close friend, Buzz Hardy ’50, was always impressed with the importance Dave placed on integrity in his advertising counsel with his clients and with those he supervised.
Shortly after Dave’s death, I asked Nancy what most characterized Dave in her years with him. She replied instantly, “Sense of humor and love of family.” The latter was written all over Dave’s face as he posed proudly with Nancy at the center of the annual Christmas card photo. And every year, there were more and more people: Betsy, Susan, David and their spouses and nine grandchildren. Another daughter, Dave’s beloved Emily, died in 1990.
But still there was always humor—often irreverent. Every Easter Sunday in the1960s, Dave’s daughter, Betsy, recalled how she and her father would have a private Easter hat contest while everyone else waited in the otherwise somber communion line. They rated each “concoction of ribbons and flowers—with extra points for fruit!”
One time—61 years ago—Dave and I were returning to Amherst after an evening at Rahar’s. We had returned our dates to Gardner House and were ambling down Hamp’s main street when we came upon a deserted reviewing stand left over from the Columbus Day parade. Mounting the platform, Dave declared we would review the troops. I protested that it was pitch black, and the parade had already gone by that morning. Undeterred, Dave said, “Let’s just sit here in case another parade comes by.”
Dave’s loyalty to Amherst was always strong. He and Phil Cranshaw ’50 were our Class secretaries in recent years, and he and Nancy never missed a Reunion. Noting in our 50-year book that his oldest daughter had gone to Williams, Dave wrote—with his typical wry humor—“Fortunately, we have other more discerning children.” He was referring to his granddaughter, Kenly Drake ’08.
Dave always said he owed a lot to Amherst because that’s where he met Nancy Downes on a blind date from Smith College with my date and me. They were married in June 1952. In her eulogy at Dave’s memorial service, Betsy summed it all up: “Mom and Dad were married for 56 years, sharing an amazing vibrant relationship full of laughter and energy.”
That’s the way Dave lived, and that’s the way he died.
—John Esty ’50
—Phil Cranshaw ’50
—Buzz Hardy ’50