I’ve written many obituaries about people I respect and admire. The words come easily even when the emotions are heavy. But I find I am almost unable to write upon learning of the incredibly sad passing yesterday of my friend and colleague Bill Drenttel. It is simply not fair, in an age when people live past 90 for Bill to be taken at 60.
Bill had such passion for design and designers, books and writing, social good and cultural virtue. He was articulate, knowledgeable and persuasive, totally committed to causes and initiatives that benefited art and design. He put his love and money behind the Winterhouse Foundation, which enabled writers on design issues to evolve their craft. He was a businessman with an artist’s heart and soul. He had ideals and dreams but he was a pragmatist: Sustainability was his talent.
I met him, figuratively, decades ago, when he was the name of the advertising executive, Miles Drenttel, on “ThirtySomething.” At that time he was the business partner of Drenttel Doyle, but he was so much more. He was the creative searching for his outlet – his métier. I actually met him at the Greenwich Village Book Fair. He was selling books. I bought a copy of one with an Alvin Lustig cover. We talked for a while and I knew he was a kindred spirit.
A few years later, we met at an AIGA retreat in Hilton Head. After long conversations about our various loves (and hates), I urged him to run for AIGA president. I was editor of the AIGA Journal and he was chair of the publishing committee. It was Bill who said, why don’t we make it into a “real” magazine (not just a newsletter). If not for Bill it would not have happened. He had the gumption and talent to make what he proposed happen – when something was on his mind it became real.
We worked together on the Looking Closer series. Each of the editors brought their various interests to the fore – Bill’s were literary. He already had published contemporary authors through his own press, and with LC he integrated them into the design discourse.
I was with him when he met Jessica Helfand. Bill was recently divorced, when he found Jessica, as smart and sharp as the proverbial tack, they immediately fell in love. He told me so. He had no idea that they would become such an amazing design team, but it was their destiny.
Destiny is such a screwy concept. It suggests everything will occur on schedule according to a grand plan. It was right that Bill and Jessica form a partnership, make a family, have a business and be successful as creators, catalysts and influences. I hate the idea that it was destiny that Bill would cram it all into so few years and then it is legacy.
I wish his death did not come so soon. Its just simply and tragically unfair.
[More on Bill from family and friends here]