Don Maurer was 47, and he will be missed.
At a pay phone moments after hearing this terrible news, I reached Janet Northen, who had been trying to get in touch with me. Janet heads the PR department at Don's agency, McKinney & Silver, in Raleigh, N.C. "I wanted to reach out to the people Don loved, especially his friends in New York," she said. She had also been trying to reach Laura, who is on leave from Ad Age completing a journalism fellowship at Columbia University. Laura had introduced me to Don a few years earlier, and the three of us would go out to dinner when he was in New York. We also sought each other out at American Association of Advertising Agencies conferences, where we were joined by DDB's Ken Kaess, who worked with Don more than 20 years ago and remained a close friend.
As a journalist, you always keep a distance between yourself and the people you cover to maintain objectivity. The word friend doesn't usually apply, except in a looser business definition. But there are people you like, people you just know would be personal friends in a different context. For me, Don was one of those people.
I would never compare my suffering to that endured by the people Don truly loved, especially his teen-age daughters Rachael and Sarah (whom he frequently and affectionately talked about), his parents, his brother and sister, and his girlfriend, Heidi Neese. Heidi was in the car with Don when it ran off the road and remains hospitalized. But his death has deeply saddened me.
Don Maurer was a kid from Long Island who began his career at a New York ad agency, Cun-ningham & Walsh, that has long since disappeared. He moved to Raleigh in 1996, but he loved Manhattan and came in as often as he could. He even threw a holiday party in the city last December. He said it was part of his (successful) plan to raise McKinney's national profile. His friends knew it was just another excuse for him to be in New York.
When in New York, Don stayed at the hottest hotels-the W in Union Square was a favorite. Nights out with him were adventures, starting at expense-account eateries and ending, many hours later, at a subterranean club populated by black-clad hipsters, or a dive bar with a pool table and jukebox. The last time I saw him was in June.
Don was well liked, as far as I could tell, by just about everyone he met. Steve Gunderson, an ad industry headhunter, was a longtime friend, and he flew to North Carolina last week for the funeral. Charlie Rutman of Carat worked with Don at Cunningham & Walsh in the late `70s, was a friend outside the office, and said he planned to contribute to a memorial scholarship fund. Ken Kaess, too, traces his friendship with Don to when "we were a couple of young, single account guys. He was always a great guy and one of those people you never lose touch with," Ken said. "As we grew in our careers, it was really great to have a peer who was also a really good friend."
I asked Ken what made Don so likable. "He was down to earth, straightforward. He was the kind of guy who just made you feel totally comfortable.
"I don't know what I'm going to do the next time I ordinarily would have seen him," Ken said. "This one really hurts."