When I’m sad or grieving or just dealing with something enormous, my first impulse is to sit down at the keyboard and get it out.
I’m writing tonight.
This afternoon in San Francisco a man named John Durham died after many years of serious health problems. Those are the facts, but not the story. To those of us who knew and loved him so much, he was THE DURHAM: a life force, a gentle soul, a fantastic dresser and a terrible speller. He was generous to his students at USF, to the many one-time interns whose careers he started, to industry colleagues, to shopkeepers and clerks and nurses and complete strangers. He shared his wine, he reached for the check, he did the work to bring his industry friends together over lavish meals that he himself couldn’t enjoy in later years. And he always pivoted the conversation to “…but I want to hear about YOU? How’re YOU doing?”
As I sit here typing tonight with two glasses of 2013 Syrah on the table, I feel like a light has gone out and the world got just a little dimmer. My memories of John were so personal, our conversations so deep and rich. But I also realize that in the world of THE DURHAM, I’m just one of many souls at many tables who are feeling this way tonight. I poured that second glass for John, but it’s there for all of you who knew him as well.
Memories I’ll hold close forever are of John and me at iMedia. Doesn’t matter which one, doesn’t matter which city or resort. No matter what either or both of us had going on, we’d end up sitting next to each other in some breezeway or patio or riverside rocking chairs like Statler and Waldorf, the two Muppets in the balcony, commenting on the world, sharing deep ideas and laughing like fools. And never for twenty or thirty minutes: for an hour, for two. While we connected many times by phone and unintelligible text messages over these pandemic months, our last time together – our last hug- was at the iMedia reunion he organized in New Orleans in February 2020. We sat together over coffee in the hotel lobby for close to three hours. He talked about the directions his life might go in future years. He talked about feeling blessed. Having been to hell and back, he was now a man who simultaneously had so much left to do while also being completely at peace with whatever lay ahead.
It was perfect.
In short, he was THE DURHAM. To his friends, no explanation is necessary. To those who were never touched by him, no explanation is possible. Go in love and peace dear friend. Your name will be spoken and your laughter and kindness and humanity will be celebrated for many, many years to come.
The Extra Mile
An excerpt from a beautiful rememberance by Rishad Tobaccowala
John for over a decade would share a thought, a story, an observation, or an anecdote which came to be known as “Durhamism’s”. They were wise and they were funny. They made you hold in tears or spit out what you were drinking or eating since they were so funny. A request to sign up for a crowd sourcing project to take these writings and put them together in an electronic form prior to publication of a selection was oversubscribed within hours with CEO’s and leaders grabbing as many assignments as they could!
If the measure of a man is the lives he has touched, there is no tape or ruler long or deep enough to measure the impact of John Durham.
John was in many ways the fabric that connected and weaved together a global diaspora of what initially were digital marketing and media pioneers but grew to include people of every stripe from CEOs to students across industries and the globe.
I was one of those lucky to know John Durham. We were far more connected in the last two years of his life brought together by his being a generous champion of my writing and thinking which he asked me to leverage to the benefit of the many communities he cared about from University of San Francisco to the San Francisco Bay Area Interactive Group to his clients at Catalyst SF and many more. Almost every Sunday, he would write me kind words after he read this weekly thought letter.
Many people knew him much longer and far better and interacted with him almost daily and I have now begun to suspect there may have been many John Durham’s because surely one individual could not be so much to so many!
He was friend, mentor, counselor, teacher, advisor, family member.
And he was their sommelier, their sports buddy, their fellow traveler and the one who made them laugh.
The container that molded John was broken when he was born and we are unlikely to see someone like him again in the future, but his teachings can help guide us forward.
For the full article, click here.
We Will Miss You
The Durham: We Will Miss You
Thanksgiving is a time when family and friends can get together and bask in the warmth of their relationships. This year will be a little bit different for many of us, because we lost one of our most cherished people last week. We lost John Durham.
John was called many names: The Professor. The Mayor. The Kentucky Colonel. The Great Connector. The ultimate sommelier and member of “The Hillbilly Winos.” Some of these were inside jokes among friends, while others were a matter of public record. He was the self-proclaimed “dumb ole’ country boy” when he was feeling humble, but he was also a force of nature that drove people in a positive direction.
Most people knew him simply as “The Durham.”
He was personally responsible for kicking off the careers of hundreds — if not thousands — of people in digital advertising and marketing. He was the momentum behind events that shaped the digital advertising industry from its inception, and the ultimate motivator for anyone sitting in front of him.
He was a breeze blowing positivity into the lives of so many people. He had the ability to make you feel special, to unlock your dreams and have them wash over you, creating a sense of belief and excitement that would nudge you in the direction to strive for something great. He published his “Durhamisms” every day over the last 10 years, aggregating the kind and motivational words of so many people into a single thread that furthered their initial purpose.
To me, he was a mentor, a business partner and a friend. He was also family. He was responsible for me meeting my wife, he spoke at our wedding, and he was known to my kids as GodDaddy John. He would spend many holidays with us, and we spoke to him every week, increasing to almost daily the last few years. His health was a concern we talked about often, but he would always disregard those concerns and shift the topic toward something else. He would be “just checkin’ in,” because he wanted to keep tabs on how life was going and offer words of encouragement.
This past week the digital media business witnessed an outpouring of emotion the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Stories were told, and tears were shed. It was a testament to just how important John was and how many people he touched over the last 30 years. Many of the people who grew the digital media community were FODs (friends of Durham) or Durhamites (proteges of Durham).
I am going to miss our daily check-ins. I will miss our discussions about grandiose ideas and new businesses.
And I will miss him deeply this holiday season. The holidays were when my kids would hang out with John, seeing the smiles light up their little faces when he would arrive bearing gifts (far too many — he was always too generous).
The best way to honor someone like John is to look at what was so great about him, what greatness he helped bring out in you, and continue to strive for success as a way of honoring his commitment to you.
I know I am who I am partially because of John’s role in my life. Some of the best relationships I have are because of John, and I will forever be thankful to him.
We should all be such a positive force of nature. We should all continue to believe in ourselves and the people around us in the same way that John believed in us.
When you fall into doubt about what to do next, ask yourself what John would tell you. Many of us would have called him to get his advice. Know that John would have simply found the right light in you and helped foster its brightness.
When John passed last week, I posted on social media that I would look for him in the sunrise the next morning because to me, he will always be that beacon of bright light shining down on us every day. His light shines bright, and it shines wide, and it covers everyone who came into contact with him.
Cheers to you, John, with a glass of ’83 Krug.
Original Article Here
Took the Time…
|Had I not been aware of John’s immense “appreciation” for wine and a good time, I’d have genuinely thought he was sent to us from heaven, but remain certain that that’s where he is now.|
I met John while serving at a restaurant in Larkspur Landing, CA. I was responsible for hosting a group of 12 men (a group I soon came to know as the “Cork Dorks”) for a wine dinner on the patio; and boy did they live up to the name. The theme of the dinner… 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and every one of them brought a bottle, if not two, to fit the bill. I went about my business pouring wine, serving food, decanting this bottle but not before that bottle, pouring more wine, until I noticed two tired and serene eyes gleaming up at me. And they weren’t watching what my hands were doing or whether I’d spill a drop of wine on the linen, as I was well accustomed to, but looking into my eyes and waiting patiently for me to engage. It was Durham, the only one at the party who’d taken the time to really SEE me. He ask me earnestly what I as up to (school, work, ect.). I told him that I had actually just finished my last exam to graduate with a marketing degree the previous day. The rest is history.
John took the time to see, hear, embrace, every moment, every person, every opportunity. Whether it was happy, sad, mundane or once-in-a-lifetime, Durham made a point to look up and greet the moment with a warmth that you can only understand if you had privilege of knowing him.
If you were one of those lucky, not so, few to know John well, I’m sure you’re well aware that grammar was far from John’s list of important considerations. I’d pride myself on my ability to decode the intricate puzzles he would send along; cross referencing the shapes and etches from previous notes as if they were hieroglyphics on a cave wall. There was, however, one word that John would wield more masterfully than a samurai does their katana. That word being, “interesting”. Whether expressing extreme intrigue in the current topic, or hinting to those who know him well that the person talking was batshit crazy to think what they do, “interesting” was John’s go-to response. It was always set in motion by a seemingly unending repertoire of tone, cadence, and facial expression to communicate which of the infinite iterations it was. Leading by his example, I’ll say that John truly was one of the most interesting people I have had the pleasure of knowing; and if you could see my face and hear my voice now, you’d know I say it with the utmost respect and adoration.
Luke Hoj Senior Brand Strategist
Lived to the Fullest
|John was a mentor, teacher, boss (best you could EVER have), and most importantly a friend. Every day was a new exciting opportunity working with him. He was constantly teaching and showing us all the Durham way. John taught me numerous life lessons and I will cherish those all. He also taught me that spending many weekends in Puerto Vallarta is always needed. He really lived his life to the fullest. Thank you so much John Durham for being a huge impact on my life. You were loved and looked up to by so many people. |
#893: People will hate you, rate you, shake you and break you. How you stand strong is what makes you.
#1764: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.
#843: If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try. Take every chance. Drop every fear.
#2393: This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anyone could have.
Senior Brand Strategist
|Durhamism #1787: Life doesn’t hand out ribbons for best-lived. It’s an internal decoration. We are known to our friends by a look in our eyes that we never see in a mirror.|
If life were to hand out ribbons for best-lived, John Durham would definitely receive a big blue one. In seeing his impact on the world and with all the people he affected, I truly realize I was in the presence of a once-in-a-lifetime human being. He was one of the spectacular few. Durham was many things to me, a father figure, a mentor, a friend, a boss, a leader, a level I hope to one day reach. I know now that I will tell my children and their children about John whether it be lessons he taught me or simply in the form of a durhamism. I think life is an internal decoration but John Durham certainly left a good blueprint for all of us on how to live it.
2000 Points of Wisdom
|#1735: Life is like a camera. Just focus on what’s important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t turn out — take another shot. |
I came across this #Durhamism early on when I was first being brought onto the @Catalyst team. I remember combing through our social media accounts trying to get a feel for the tone and voice of the company and understand how one man could come up with over 2,000 points of wisdom. While I never figured out the second part, I did immediately understand the truth John was sharing in this quote. Since then, it’s become something of a mantra to me. A subtle reminder for every good day and bad, to slow down, find the best “shot” of the day and hold onto it. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a lifetime must be immeasurable.
Thank you John, for being the best damn cameraman there ever was.
|It’s really hard to put into words how much John meant to me, but I’m going to try my best. Even though I had only known him for a little bit over 2 years, John touched my life forever. John will always be a mentor and friend that will have a special place in my heart. |
I first met John my sophomore year at USF – he was my Marketing Principles Professor. I knew the first second he walked into the class, more stylish than ever, that this would be one of my favorite classes. He fascinated me with the way he spoke about marketing & branding, completely influencing & changing my career interest. I found myself staying after class most days just to chat with him and to hear his awesome stories. I lost my father halfway through that semester and John couldn’t have been more supportive. I had to pick up 2 jobs in order to support my family, that’s when John told me to quit both of those jobs to come work with him at Catalyst. It started off as a 3-month internship, that just continued a turned into a 2-year position. No one outside of my family has looked out for me the way John did, he saved mine & my family’s life in so many different ways – I couldn’t be more appreciative & grateful for what he did.
I don’t know how John did it, but he truly made you feel special in every conversation you had with him. He had this innate ability to bring out the best in you and make you feel more special than ever. I don’t think I have ever met anyone as genuine, generous, kind-hearted, intelligent, and wise as John Durham. He was someone that I could always rely on for guidance, giving the most sound and clear advice that I will miss dearly. But my favorite part about John was that no matter what was going on in his life, he had such an incredibly positive outlook on everything. He was and will always be an inspiration for how to live life to the fullest.
I will forever cherish my memories & what I learned from John and everyone at Catalyst.
We Are In Advertising
I remember working with John at Carat doing pitches. As things would get heated, he would remind me that we are in advertising, not curing cancer. Relax. That’s always helped me put things into perspective. Thank you John.
One of the most special memories I have is when back in 2008 John asked me to co-host the Ad-Tech Agency sessions with him. It was my first time as a event speaker, not on a panel. I was nervous, prepared material and talked through the preparation. And then in John Durham fashion, much of that was tossed out and he went off script. It was awkward for me at first… but I let go, adjusted and it was a great session.
John was always someone that did everything from the heart and not by heart. It’s a talent many of us are afraid to try out. I believe having the preparation gets you ready, but learned here letting go of that preparation and connecting with the room is everything.
Warm & Welcome
It was the first time I met John. It was back in 1999 when John was with Winstar Interactive and I was at broadcast.com. I was shopping around SF for a small office space for me and a few of my teammates. I stumbled into Johns office because he was subletting space. The space wasn’t much but when I entered the office, John was like a light bulb that flipped on. He couldn’t have been more welcoming. He got up and greeted me before he even knew what I was there. He was just a natural charmer that loved connecting with people. He made me feel warm and welcome so even though it wasn’t my favorite space, it was my first choice, just because of John. broadcast got purchased by Yahoo a week later so I never got to work in the same office with John and that was absolutely my loss.
I miss John every day b/c i use to speak with him almost that much… Over the many years (I met John in the early 90s) we interacted on so many levels… business, life, sports (he LOVED England soccer) wine (especially champagne/BIG reds)/food/travel, networking and well, just about any topic that was conversational, John would always have a comment or suggestion that was either helpful and/or just insightful and thoughtful. I miss that almost daily banter with him very much. As a matter of fact, over the years, I either wrote or edited his email messages, especially Tuesday Talk. I always laughed/smiled when I’d read what he wrote/sent me that I then had to decipher & transcribe for the audiences of readers he sent his words of wisdom and informational messages to. We’d often laugh when I’d push back my “???” edits on some of his writings. We called it “speaking Durhamise”. and almost ALL of his thousands of “Durhamisms” that he’d share with everyone were always helpful and/or thought-provoking, if not mysterious (at times), but I always looked forward to reading them and asking him what motivated them. Sometimes he’d say “you don’t want to know”. To that I would always respond,,, “OK John, I won’t push” to which he would say “good, don’t”. John was a man of mystery and privacy sometimes, but ALWAYS respectful and professional to the core. And on that note; one of my favorite “durhamisms” was “if you’re going to burn a bridge, torch the muthafucker”. and of course, when he wrote that one, I asked him what/who’s this one about John?” to which he respectfully responded “don’t ask” John, I miss you a lot my friend, but I know you’re doing well (better than you were towards the end in this life) and that you’re smiling down on us from wherever you are. Please keep up the good work for us. Your spirit and memories drives me forward and upward. Some day I hope I’ll see you at the gates and you’ll let me in so we can share a glass of bubbles and some stories/wisdom that will inspire and entertain me as you always did down hear. You will always be “just a dumb ol’ country boy” (sarcastic of course). Humble, helpful and lovable through and through.