Wednesday, May 28, 2014
DON DONOVAN R.I.P.
David Heap pays tribute:
The book world suffered a serious loss this week with the death of author, illustrator, and commentator Don Donovan. Don had been ill for some time but typically continued writing, commentating and deriding newspaper editors right to the end.
Leaving school in 1948 at the age of 15 and seriously under-educated (his words) Don started life in south London wanting to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio and was thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. Eventually, in 1960, Don made his way to New Zealand when he heard the trout fishing was good!
He never regretted his decision to come to New Zealand and occasionally observed that his times as an evacuee to the Surrey countryside during the worst of the London bombing sowed the seed of his love for quiet open spaces which he rediscovered here. The opening pages of his first major book ‘New Zealand Odyssey’ give the reader some idea of his appreciation of this country, and his approach to his art and writing.
Don started work in New Zealand advertising in 1960 eventually becoming managing director of one of our largest advertising companies; he was also a proprietor and shareholder and central to many memorable campaigns – Cookie Bear being one of the more recognisable!
He left the industry in 1990 when the company was bought out by American interests, and it is tempting to remember Don as a doyen of the advertising world as he certainly made his mark there. But the timing of his departure from the advertising industry was brilliant: at that point his first book had been published, the next was on the way and, unknown to us all, a Donovan writing, illustrating and publishing industry was about to be launched! At the time of his death over 30 publications in a variety of genre have been produced and a wide range of his illustratons are available through his blog. He took to the social media with gusto and was an early exponent of self publishing and selling – something often forgotten or ignored by budding authors.
But Don wasn’t just someone interested in writing and publishing. Don loved books per se. Anyone who has been to his home will understand why he was never sure if the walls held the book collection or the books supported the walls. It has always been this way apparently. Don had a weakness for books which bordered on obsession.
In the early days all his reading was of books from the public library. It was wartime and they were more often than not dog-eared, stained, bound and rebound. But that was of no consequence, it was the magic of their contents that mattered. Long John Silver, Biggles, Jules Verne came alive on the page!
Later he started to buy rather than borrow and he moved on to more serious stuff: the final stage of his bookish obsession was to become a collector. He never threw a book away so in that sense collected. But there’s a deeper meaning to ‘collector’. It means having something rare or special and prized. To the reading of a book it adds values like the feel of a beautiful binding or the triumph of having acquired something desirable at a fraction of its value.
In recent years, Don was a regular guest on The Panel on Radio NZ programme, Afternoons. On Don’s (final?) appearance in late March, when Jim Mora asked what he was up to, Don said “I’m busy dying” and spoke calmly and with dignity about his condition.
And now Don’s library having expanded to be part of the structure of his house gives pleasure to his family as it gave pleasure to the collector.
Don is survived by Pat, whom he married in 1955, two daughters and four grandchildren.