Deceased January 24, 1992

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In Memory

Dave Patchel died on Jan. 24, 1992, two days after his 25th birthday.

This is all but impossible for me to write. I remain both incredulous and furious that my friend is actually gone. Despite numerous discarded drafts, nothing I have written seems even remotely adequate, except to say that David was one of my favorite people in the world, and I miss him terribly.

Fortunately, some of Dave’s friends have managed to get thoughts and emotions onto paper, in spite of—or perhaps because of—the ubiquitous sense of loss. As Ben Gundersheimer ’89 writes, “Dave was much too young to die, and I am far too young to be writing about a lost friend.” Ben goes on to recall freshman year in James: “Equally adept as a conversationalist and procrastinator, Dave would gladly ignore his formal studies to discuss any of his passions (film, literature, relationships, etc.) with an intensely appealing combination of insight and humor. … He had an aversion to anything that he (accurately) perceived as phony, contrived, conservative or overtly sensitive. … Patch had enormous creative potential and almost archetypal artistic temperament. Had he lived, I’m confident that he would have ended up making provocative, irreverent, hilarious and important films.”

Jonathan Feldman ’89 describes how “David and I drove out to Hollywood from Amherst to spend our final summer before graduating to learn about the movie industry. We both had strong ideas about how film could play a significant role in changing all that we believed to be wrong in the world. … Dave had an amazing ability to turn people on to seriously thinking about the world and opening their minds to new ideas.” Jon also remarks how, although cancer reappeared in David’s life and kept him from graduating with the Class of ’89, “When I would reach Dave, I was always amazed. Even though he had now lost both legs and was having a tough time with chemotherapy, he was always so full of life, so excited about the world. He was taking a filmmaking class, or he had a new girlfriend, or he had just finished some books that he wanted me to read or he was back at Amherst finishing up his thesis. He was always so inspiring.” Patch not only fought his way back to Amherst to graduate with the Class of ’91 but captured the English department’s prestigious Elizabeth Bruss prize for his senior thesis, “Fritz Lang’s Fatal Vision.”

Margie Stohl ’89 writes, “I remember his voice most clearly, his deep laugh. … He would come across the quad to South, to talk about music and film, girls and Nietzsche, all of which fascinated him. Later, in the ‘Quiet House,’ the walk was perhaps more difficult, and the names of the girls and bands were different, but David was the same … loving, with a real soul.” She notes: “What was so striking about David was his ability to invent and reinvent different futures for himself, even when his body became its weakest.”

David’s attitudes about his illness never ceased to amaze us. Josh Zinner ’87 comments on Dave’s “wry sense of humor,” and adds “even when he got sicker, we always managed to have a good laugh about a politician, a professor, an overly pompous person.” Roger Normand ‘87 recalls how “Patch was tough and resilient without ever lapsing into self-pity or despair. … He never even considered giving up and did not flinch from looking straight at the disease. The last time I saw him, about two months before he died, he showed a video of his own chest operation and provided a funny sarcastic running commentary. That’s how I remember him—always defiant, as if to say ‘whatever happens to my body, I’m still here.’”

It seems that in different ways Patch is still here for many of us. Chris Jochnick ’87 calls David “a deep thinker with a quick smile, a good-hearted cynic who must be laughing at our attempt to memorialize him but loving us for trying.” I, too, have imagined David looking over my shoulder, editing as I go, deleting anything he deems too melodramatic or—God forbid—trite.

As much as David resented his limitations, he detested being treated or thought of as a sick or disabled person. Clearly then, to become “our friend who died of cancer” would make Patch mad as hell, and we need to remember that. Hopefully, our reminiscences will focus on a man who, more than anything else, truly knew how to live; a friend whose passing we may come to accept but whose life we will certainly miss for the rest of ours.

Danya Zucker ‘87