It is with the greatest personal sadness that I have to report the death of a cherished member of our blog family. David Blair Drumm passed away on December 18, 2013 in Austin, Texas. David was there at the very beginning of this blog and remained one of its staunchest supporters. Through the years, David was a rock who not only brought reasoned and calm analysis to posts but also to the management of the blog. He started as a regular commentator under the name “Nal” and I then invited him to write on the weekends. He played the role of editor as well as writer. (Indeed, I am worried about this memorial since David often caught the many typos that I would leave in early morning postings). I came to trust him absolutely in his judgment and analysis. I considered him a good friend and one of the most important influences on this blog. David wrote as a Weekend Blogger for years, sharing his insights into religion, politics, and his always popular “Find the Kitteh” contest. Our success is due in no small part to David Drumm and this blog, I hope, will remain a testament to his work and his memory. To that end, we are dedicating the entire blog today to David and his work. He was a brilliant electrical engineer, a profound writer, a passionate civil libertarian, and most importantly a fierce and loyal friend to our blogging community.
This news will no doubt come as a shock for the thousands of people who followed David’s writings every weekend. Indeed, it was a shock for the blog team. I became concerned at the end of December that we had not heard from David. His last email to the contributing writers was that his two planned topics for the weekend had already been covered on the blog. That was December 13th. I was not surprised therefore when he did not post that weekend and, with the holidays, I assumed that he had taken a weekend off (though that was rare since David was one of our most consistent and regular writers). At the beginning of January, I started to send messages to make sure that David was all right and received no reply. A week ago, I alerted the Weekend Bloggers that I was very concerned about David. Our team then kicked into high gear and searched for contacts for David. particularly Charlton Stanley and Darren Smith. In the midst of the search, one of our team members found a death notice for a David Blair Drumm in Austin. It was a chilling find since (while never using “Blair” in his byline, I knew he lived in Austin and went by David. B. Drumm). The team reached out to the funeral home and others in the hopes that this was not our David. A couple days ago, we received the confirmation that we were dreading. I was able to reach David’s brother, Richard Drumm, in Virginia and he confirmed that David had died between December 16th and 18th. David’s co-workers became concerned when he missed a second day at work and called police. His condo manager opened up his apartment and he was found dead. The suspicion is a heart attack. He was only 65 years old.
Since most people knew David exclusively from his Internet persona and columns, David’s life and background was largely a mystery. His family has shared details with me over the last few days. We all knew some of David’s passions like his love for 60s tunes (that I share) and often posted Golden Oldies and interesting videos. However, some details might surprise you. David held two black belts in two different martial arts. He was also an avid biker — conquering what he called “The Hill of Death” in Austin as an athletic goal.
David was born on June 30, 1948. He graduated high school in 1965 and joined the Navy — serving in anti-submarine warfare in a variety of capacities (Lockheed P-2 Neptune, Lockheed P-3 Orion, NAS Patuxent River, Rota, Spain). He then received in BS from the University of Miami around 1973 and received a master’s degree in 1978 from Georgia Tech. He would later work for E-Systems in Texas from 1982 to 1990. He then went to Southern Methodist University and earned his Ph.D in electric engineering on May 18, 1996.He then worked for Enterprise Electronics Corporation on doppler radar and moved to various cities from Alabama to Pennsylvania to Texas. He was working as senior system
architect with Coherent Logix in Austin when he died. He held various patents for devices with such daunting titles as “Parallel Execution of Trellis-Based Methods.” His book, Entropy-coded Quantization, was published in 1996 and runs 568 pages.
David’s background shows a life lived to its hilt. David loved to try new things and take on new challenges both academic and recreational. He lived his life with a quiet creativity and gusto. That love for life came out in his writings. He loved to mix the playful with the profound as subjects from optical illusions to the intolerance shown atheists in our society. He often wrote of social inequalities like a professor who lived in poverty due to the lack of basic support from her university. He often explored the use of language as he did with the use of analogies by those seeking to take the nation to war. He often called on the United States to stop propping up corrupt and abusive regimes and stand proudly with secular values of equality and civil liberties as with this criticism of the Karzai regime:
Any idea that the US will leave behind a Afghan security force and army that will thwart the Taliban is a fantasy to soothe US political opinion. The Taliban are vicious immoral thugs whose religion allows them to morally justify their actions. That the Afghanistan people will be brutalized by the inevitable Taliban theocracy is a certainty. However abhorrent, it is up to the Afghans to remedy that situation. The US does not have the resources to save Muslims from Islam. The US can show the way by our exemplification of the rights of conscience found in our secular society.
David was particularly passionate about the separation of church and state, as was evident in this criticism of Vladimir Putin: “Crazy beliefs are not exclusive to religion and are of little consequence until they have the authority of the state behind them. Vladimir Putin seems hell-bent on helping Russian Orthodox Christians turn Russia into a Christian version of Saudi Arabia.”
David last posted comments on December 15, 2013 with a comments and a video links to share with people. In his final comments, David was doing what he often did in helping people understand filter and posting mechanics on the blog.
For me, David personified this blog. He was civil but passionate in discussing a wide range of issues. David believed deeply in the first amendment and shared a strong resistance to banning writers. He also believed strongly in our anonymity rule and, most importantly, our civility rule. He had a hand in all of those policies. He was totally committed to this blog. I remember years ago that the ABA competition with another site had turned a bit ugly with allegations that people associated with the other site had published false information about us and engaged in multiple voting schemes (before new security measures were put into place). David went on the ABA site and voted. He then had the opportunity to vote again from another device and immediately felt guilty. He notified us that he felt that he had yielded to his anger and he went back on and cast additional votes for the other blog to wipe out any impact. It was quintessentially David. He was intensely loyal and fatally honest. Through the years, David would privately offer counsel on controversies on the blog. I cannot remember a single suggestion of David that I did not agree with.
One of the most curious aspects of blogging is that we create not simply a community but a type of family among the regulars who come daily to this site. We often never meet face-to-face but share dreams and losses within this virtual family. In a strange way, our physical remoteness brings us closer – a sense that, unlike some many mandatory relationships or associations, this is a place of our choosing or our creation. We choose each other on a daily basis. In that unique relationship, we can develop relationships that are closer precisely because they are uncluttered by physical meetings or expectations. We come to this place in search of community and conversation. It is on our own terms. No one forces us to come back or to stay. David chose to stay and we would find him here everyday with a new thought or witty aside. We would find his signature cat avatar in the comments and know that “Nal” had returned to the fold.
My Italian grandfather once warned me that the world has two types of people: people who cannot avoid doing evil and those who cannot avoid doing good. It is in their nature. David was a force for good. While some disagreed with his views, David embraced the world for all of its beauty and diversity. He despised orthodoxy and intolerance. His writing was simple and powerful and, most importantly, honest. I will miss him and his presence deeply and daily. There is of course nothing virtual about our sense of loss. It is real and personal. Yet, I have learned from the loss of family that a loss like this does not simply fade away. It remains but I have found that the pain transforms into a more positive sense of meaning from the memories of our lost friends. David left us with a host of such memories in his many posts on this blog. This cyber memorial can hardly repay him for what he gave to us but it can remind us of what he left in his passing.
Rest in peace, my friend. And thank you.
P.S.: I want to thank David’s brother, Richard, for the pictures and background information. Rich says that memorial contributions in David’s name can be sent to http://cosmoquest.org/Donate