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SS+K: How We Remember David McCall

Agency Keeps Founder's Legacy Alive Through 'David's Work'

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That undersized Santa encircled by kids and colleagues is actually Rob Shepardson of SS+K. He wears the same Santa suit every December, when agency volunteers arrive at P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to give grade-schoolers some holiday cheer.

Few of them would get a Christmas gift if not for the SS+K people who've bought and wrapped the games, dolls and toys before showing up at the school every Christmas season since 1999.

That was also the year that a car crash in Albania killed David McCall. What's the connection between P.S. 188 and a fatal car crash a dozen years ago?

Santa Rob Shepardson of SS+K hands out toys at the agency's annual holiday event at P.S. 188 in Manhattan.
David had a distinguished career as David Ogilvy's hand-picked successor as Ogilvy copy chief (Maxwell House Coffee, Sears) and as co-founder of agency McCaffrey & McCall (Exxon, Tiffany, Mercedes-Benz).

He despised the tobacco industry and testified before Congress on the evils of marketing cigarettes to kids. After seeing actor Yul Brynner on TV discussing his imminent death from lung cancer, David cut one of the hardest hitting anti-smoking spots ever. "Whatever you do, don't smoke," the star of "The King & I" told viewers shortly before he died.

To help one of his six sons grasp his school lessons, David asked a creative team at his agency to put the essentials of grammar and government to rock tunes. The result? "Schoolhouse Rock."

After selling his agency to the Saatchis, David was rich but unretiring. He re-enlisted in the agency business, and joined three much younger and less accomplished guys to open SS+K in the early 1990s.

The more successful SS+K became, the more time David spent on philanthropy. As chairman-designate of Refugees International, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, David headed to an Albanian refugee camp in the spring of 1999. He was delivering radios to enable refugees from the war in Kosovo to contact missing family members. Driving on a mountain road during a heavy rain, the car went off a cliff, killing David; his wife, Penny; a French aid worker, Yvette Pierpaoli; and their driver.

Later that year, SS+K created "David's Work" as a way to uphold his legacy at the agency. We found P.S. 188 through New York Cares.

The kids at P.S. 188 don't have a clue who David McCall was, but their shrieks of delight as they rip open their gifts are all the tribute he would want.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Kaminsky is a partner at SS+K, New York.

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