I first met him in Ballater where, on a balmy summer's evening, he was dressed in a thick Aran knit jumper, shivering. "I can never get used to this bloody country," he said, his face splitting into a bright grin, his eyes gleaming with mischief. So began a true friendship, one made that little bit stronger when it transpired that we were born in the same small Glasgow nursing home. Not that Don was a nostalgic Scot, he was an African.
His name was built in South Africa where he co-founded the Johnnie Walker tasting programme, then the College Of Whisky. He was a whisky man through and through and searched constantly for finding new ways to communicate about the drink we all love so much.
His house in Hout Bay became my first stop in South Africa, a place of refuge, somewhere to relax and think, where the talk would be of books and art, of music and family and slowly, always, arcing back to whisky. There would be questions, arguments, a teasing out of theories, the creation of new ideas, new projects.
He wore his knowledge easily, amassing facts assiduously (our e-mail discussions were lengthy and forensic) before then seemingly improvising a bravura presentation peppered with jokes, spreading the word in a new way, in a new whisky market to a new whisky audience.
I remember a conversation by his pool one night, discussing the apparent recklessness of his countrymen. "This is Africa," he said. "You never know if today will be your last, so you live it to the full." He looked serious. Then the grin. He did live it to the full. The cup of his life was always brimming and he drank heartily from it.
He was a writer, a performer, a father, a mentor, an artist, a sculptor, the maker of ponds, a raconteur, a wit and my African brother. He was my friend. Go well, brave heart.
The Keepers of the Quaich, South African Chapter
Don first came into my life way back in 1999 when we started The Striding Man Society together in SA. He grew into a dear friend and eventual partner in The College of Whisky. The South African whisky industry has lost a legend and remarkable leader in his field. Only the other day I cried out "DP where are you now, I need you". He was the "IT" guy! (That's "it" not "information technology" although was pretty sassed on this subject too). The brainstrust of whisky. His absolute love, passion, brilliance and innovation has left a huge gapping hole. A fountain of ideas which changed the SA whisky landscape forever. He inspired, touched & unlocked the mystery, broke down the barriers, simplified the facts, always threw in humour but most of all he was a magical storyteller. A true showman without all the pretentiousness. Thousands & thousands of whisky fans owe their whisky journey to Don. You were simply the best! Hard to believe there will be no more "KC, I have an idea" said with a twinkle in his eye and smirking giggle, no more "DP, I need your inspiration"...I'm proud to have known you and to have had your friendship my friend. You have left your mark on us all. May your soul now rest in peace.
Karen Chaloner - Whisky Live Festival, South Africa
Probably my funniest memory of Don, was the time him and I were asked to do an Interview and live tasting with well known local Radio DJ Ryan O Connor.
On leaving the house my wife asked me where I was going I told her to the interview she insisted I dress up. "Ffor radio??" I said. "YES!" she replied.
Of course I reluctantly did as I was told on ariiving I met Don in the foyer, he looked at me and said "My don't you look smart."
I told him the story he quipped "Well done always listen to those more beautiful than you." On getting up to the studio we were ushered through and Don looked around and asked what the cameras were for and they replied the interview Don he said "But it's radio ??" Well it was not, Ryan had a TV programme,Don took 2 steps back looked at me and said "I will have that jacket darling and Ryan... that is great news, wished I had known that, makeup please, and Hector my boy better get that whisky out too!
Words don't do Don justice. He was a person to be with, to relish and savior his keen wit and mischievousness, and his passion for his country of birth and its wonderful midnight wine, which was a source of endless fascination, discussion and debate. His generosity of spirit was matched by a profound wisdom which he also dispensed with liberality. He didn't lack courage; I recall him diving from a yacht into the freezing July water of Islay's Glas Uig ('Submarine Bay'), and emerging smiling; his refusal to pay parking fines in Glasgow was renowned. When I think of Don I'm reminded of what wonderful people there are in this slightly crazy world of whisky that we inhabit, and that we've just lost one of the best of them.
Dr Nick Morgan
A special moment for Don and he refers to it in his book My Whisky companion was our trips to Scotland the home of whisky to do the Malt Advocates course.
We have a special photo of me and him on the pier at Lagavulin. We both always wanted to visit this sacred piece of land.
Funny was when a little German PR lady downed about a yard of ale ( Lagavulin) cask strength in her haste to taste and it took us two days to quiet her down. STEAM SMOKE coming out of her ears and nostrils.
Don and I also single handedly with Karen Chaloner started the JW tasting programme in SA.
Also started the College of Whisky with the three mentioned above.
Great copy writing and most if not all of our material we use in whisky education in SA for Brandhouse comes from his pen and Oscar Tango.
The 2 of us were also the pioneers in CRM for whisky when we started the Bell's Fraternity of Connoisseurs in 1999.
JW Striding man, friends of the Classic Malts, Bells CRM programmes all came from OT and DP.
Don was also a key member of our KOTQ team in SA and always assisted with the Keepers Banquet...
It was my great privilege to nominate him as a keeper in 2005.
I could carry on .....
Always smiling, always ready to ad some marketing wisdom and savvy
A great whisky presenter and an astute nose..... I will miss you my friend.
Rynard van der Westhuizen
Don, you were many things to the South African whisky industry, Mr Johnnie Walker, Mr Classic Malts, a driving force behind popularising whisky is all our communities, but most of all you were a generous and gentle spirit. One who shared great values, knowledge and experiences about whisky with anyone who had half an interest. I will remember you for your awesome enthusiasm for whisky and your ability to enchant and encourage experts and beginners alike about whisky and its charm. Go well my friend and enjoy your share of the "Angels Share".
Jonathan Miles, The Whisky Academy.
I met Don decades ago when we were both copywriters in London agencies - I'd previously worked with his art director - and we always had a blast whenever we socialised. It was a delight to discover, after I'd been editing The Quaich for few years and he was in SA, that he'd also got into working on the best product in the world for a writer. We had the chance to co-operate on a few things but not enough. The originality of his approach and the speed at which he made a name for himself and won respect from some people who are not at all easy to impress was typical - and a lasting testament to the man.
"Don was the godfather in the SA industry when it comes to knowledge.
The mysteries he shared with us will keep the sparkles in our eyes bright.
I really treasure the way he took me under his wing and allowed the new generation to step into what he prepared for us.
We will miss him and always remember his flair."
"Don was a good friend. He was an eloquent, wise and evervescent human being and one of Whisky's greatest ambassadors. We shared many great adventures together, many of them in the company of Scotland's finest Malts. I remember fondly sharing a dram with Don high up in the Mannoch Hills, at the source of the spring that supplies water to the Cardhu distillery, and Don quipping: " Ah, just another tough day at the office!". I celebrate the life of a larger than life individual, a friend and a great marketing man."
"The industry has lost a great college and friend. We will miss you, but never forget you. Keep a close eye on that "angels share for us".
Niel Hendriksz: Brand Ambassador Whisky Portfolio, the really great brand company
Oscar Tango, his company, was built up around the brilliance of his creative idea generation and unique writing ability. Whether he was penning a whisky journal, his book, or an email, one was always guaranteed a good read. Many a client would eagerly open a "Don" email, anticipating the awaiting treat, and even if the message was one of chastisement, still enjoy the skilful way he imparted it.
He will be sorely missed, but I know he lives on in the hearts of those he touched.
Don was my dear friend and whisky mentor, who knew when I needed guidance or just an ear to talk to about things other than whisky. He always had time and always had wisdom.
Most times when I conduct a tasting, people ask me about that tall thin man who conducted a tasting for them many years earlier. They remember Don, his passion, his skill as a presenter and as an entertainer. A couple of years ago a few whisky presenters in South Africa were sitting around talking whisky and we all said that Don's presentation style was the benchmark that we aspire to.
He was a master wordsmith and knew exactly what worked and what had to be reworked. His passion and knowledge shines through in his book, "My Whisky Companion", which he dedicated to the loves of his life, his children, who he referred to in his book as the people who "drove me to drinking the stuff in the first place!"
But even he would have struggled to find the words to describe the look on his face at his birthday party a few years ago when a mate poured Coke into a glass of cask strength twenty year old Caol Ila...
Cheers Don, enjoy your drams with the angels.
Dons way with words was first made apparent to us when Don traveled around South and North America and the UK. His letters home were treasured and read over and over. He made every sentence so exciting, we could imagine we were sitting right next to him, partaking of his adventures together.
When I first heard that Don had contracted cancer, I thought that he has such a positive outlook and attitude, that cancer did not stand a chance.
That fight lasted about 3 years and Dons character and personality remained strong right up to the very end. At 05H30 on that Monday morning, Don opened his eyes and smiled at me as I entered his room, that heart warming smile. That is something I will always have of him.
Could I have asked for a better Big Brother? Never. I had a brother that stories are written about and are the envy of others.
Rest In Peace Big Little Brother, you deserve it.
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