The Great Douglas M. Chouteau

We are all shocked and saddened at the loss of our great friend Doug. I can honestly say I never met another man like him in my entire life. In all the years of our friendship which included working together, being business partners together, gambling with and very much against each other, we never once fell out. I cannot remember a cross word from him to me. How utterly remarkable, and what a testament to what a man he was, unbelievably kind and considerate.

Even beyond the gambling, which was pretty constant with us, by far the over-riding memory is laughter. From our very first meeting, to the last emails sent, our relationship was built on happiness and humour. Impossible to beat that. Our first encounter somewhat set the tone, we were both working for a pretty dodgy UK publishing company, he a slightly down on his luck millionaire, me a young thrusting trying to be advertising salesman. I needed to go and extend my holiday Visa (yes, not technically legal) and even though I didn’t know Doug I asked if I could borrow his coat - as I “didn’t want to look like I was working”. Some might have taken offence to such a request, but of course Doug absolutely loved it. He insisted on messing up my hair, scuffing my shoes, and in every way returning the compliment. Somehow from that first slightly odd encounter we became unbelievably close and inseparable. I was new to California and he was happy to show me the ropes, and lead me, very willingly, astray. This included nightly visits to bars with pool tables and weekends at the track. What wonderful days and nights.

I never met anyone that could sell advertising space like Doug, I’m genuinely not sure anyone was in the same game as him. It really was absolute showbiz, he had this miraculous ability to deliver a line that no matter how the receptionist, the client, anyone, responded to it they would be funny. It was so brilliant that I didn’t fully understand the genius of what he was doing until many, many years later. Sadly impossible to describe and equally so to replicate, he managed to bring - even to the horrendous world of telephone sales - incredible laughter and happiness. That is without question a miracle.

As an Englishman abroad desperate to make a mark of some sort I will look across the office in awe as Doug would be calling down the telephone “… rush into his office and shout ‘a salesman is calling, a salesman is calling’”. Utter madness of course, and yet it worked, week after week, month after month. Truly impossible to duplicate or copy.

Our days at the racetrack were glory days of happiness, failure, and joy. Doug would usually turn up at Golden Gate Fields in a three-piece suit, utterly magnificent. We were in many ways the odd couple but we were always treated well by the racing aficionados. We had one massive advantage over our colleagues in that we never expected to win and as Doug famously once said “I really need to break even today”. Should we walk away with any cash between us it wouldn’t be impossible for us to stop at a poker club on the way home, again impossible to really describe the joy activities for a young man living in the New World.

One of my favourite and most clear memories is Doug and I being on the wait list at a particularly average poker club in Oakland. It was all rushed and very busy and Doug was being ushered quite aggressively by the manager into his seat where his cards had already been dealt (five card draw). Doug sat down picked up his cards and let out an incredibly loud scream. The manager who was already agitated, went bananas, and started asking him to leave. Doug looked up at him with that wonderfully bemused look he could conjure and with a flourish turned over his cards for everyone to see; Aces over 7’s. Of course the table roared their approval - they had all been saved from a terrible beating, and the manager had to retreat grumbling to himself. Again it’s easy to imagine how the table would have absolutely loved and adored such eccentricity.

High amongst my memories of Doug are our wonderful trips to Maui to see his brother Azby and his lovely wife. What golden days, joyful, no phones, no messages, bliss. I remember on our first trip Azby picked it up and took us to a beach right next to the airport and myself and Doug ran into the surf like delirious schoolboys. The water being ridiculously warm, I just remember us laughing. And laughing. I think there is a chance that Azby would have been looking on thinking “Christ this kid is a real moron”. Incredible hospitality, tales of the great plane robbery, golf, swimming, the lilo (as we call it in the UK, an air bed in the US I think, a complete chapter in itself …)

Long before it was considered in vogue to be ‘unconditional’, and nonjudgmental, Doug was pretty unique in not needing to be offering feedback on other people’s lives. I can remember two instances when he offered me feedback, the first was walking the streets of San Francisco during a particularly awful fashion stage for me, I was wearing those multi-coloured weightlifter trousers (it was the 1980s) and a multicoloured quilt jacket. Horrendous. We were walking along a crowded street chatting away and then out of nowhere Doug shouted very loudly “NO ONE, no matter how wealthy or talented, can dress like that”. It was loud enough to draw a crowd, and after my initial shock I could obviously do no more than join him in uproarious laughter. I never wore the two offending items, together, again.

The other time was when we were having a drink together after work on a Friday night and I’d ordered another glass of wine and he said to me quite gently “Eamonn you know that you don’t get any more charming or any funnier when you drink”. It was unusual enough for him to say something like that that I took the matter under advisement (30 years later I still don’t drink).

I was lucky enough to meet his two incredible sons Garth and Zach when they were still kids. The friendship they showed me immediately was remarkable and I have felt a deep connection with them ever since. I remember Doug saying to me after Zach had turned 18 “you know that’s a big relief to me, I’ve fretted and worried about them both everyday since they were born, I guess now they are 18 I can relax a bit and think I’ve got them this far”.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Alice, she remained ridiculously nice to me long after it became clear who was leading who astray with myself and Doug. There was never any doubt that she always loved him ferociously.

Anyone who has had the misfortune to be involved in a failing business will know the stress and strain involved, it’s incredibly easy in such circumstances to fall out with one’s business partners. Doug and I once published an Architectural diary that inspired one of the great lines of all time from Doug to a client when he was asked by a competitor of one of the previous years advertisers how many copies the advertiser was going to buy this year (they didn’t like to be outdone by the other company). Disastrously the other company had cut their previous order from 2000 copies to 12. Doug answered truthfully “XYZ are going to ordering between three and 5000 copies”. I was in the office at the time and very nearly coughed up a lung with laughter. Doug was waving at me furiously to stop laughing so I didn’t set him off, but I actually ended up on the carpet. What balls, what a legend.

The final nail in that ventures coffin was a lighting company whose light fitting was cropped by the printer in error, cropped as in NOT in the picture. Doug went into battle proclaiming it “a magnificent piece of reverse advertising …” that one didn’t get through, but again left me in awe and absolute stitches.

So many memories, of such an exceptional man. He was a brother in arms, a man who could be trusted without question, talented, generous, hilarious, kind, and always the most amazing company.

What a man.

5 Responses to "The Great Douglas M. Chouteau"

  1. Phil Green   March 11, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    Douglas was godfather to my three sisters and me and one of my favorite people in the world. We’ll all miss him.

    Reply
  2. Colin Chaves   April 9, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    I sure will miss trading jokes with him.

    I’ll never forget Douglas some 6-8 years ago digging up potatoes in his garden with my son, who would have been about 6 years old at the time. The contagious joy Douglas took in it, that transferred over to my son, was something to behold. That says so much about Douglas.

    A special, special person.

    Reply
  3. Niki Chaves   April 9, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Douglas was such an awesome person – full of life and energy. He could keep up with my fast wit, and was so very kind to our children, which is the best way to get into my heart. We miss him, and will miss him, but we will see him again someday………………

    Reply
  4. bruce s harkins   May 6, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    I miss him terribly. Employer, mentor, friend, compatriot, original thinker: I cried as I wrote this little limerick to honor his memory, just as a dear friend of my father did when my dad was killed crossing the street. I regret never really getting to know Alice, who I know to also be an original:

    For Alice, Zack, Garth, Peri and family…

    There once was a Douglas Chouteau, whose loss hurts much more than he’d know.
    Mentor and pal, a mensch to the end
    A pleasure to talk with, brainstorming friend
    Loving & giving, creative and kind
    So full of ideas– an original mind
    We’ll all miss his humor & and incisive wit
    And my life is just less sans him in it

    With my deepest love, sympathy, condolences and incredible sadness at his unexpected death,
    Douglas’s friend to the end…
    Bruce Harkins
    Miami, FL

    Reply
  5. Warren krauss   September 19, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    I’m Warren Krauss from Huntington, NY. There was a Doug Chouteau in my HS class ( class 58. Was this

    Reply

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