Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Elegy for a Museum Director

How many of us get to (or think to) write our own obituary? Daniel R. Porter, who was the Director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program when I first came to Cooperstown in 1981, and later became Director of the Fenimore Art Museum's parent organization, made sure he had the final word. The result is pure folk literature, witty and self-deprecating and a joy to read.

Dan Porter was a real piece of work, but he supported my career when I was just starting out and I owe him the honor of having his last words read by my readers here. Please take the time to read the obit he wrote for himself and left in the care of his younger brother, with instructions to simply fill in the date of death when the time came. We should all be so organized.

Daniel R. Porter III

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - With trumpets blaring, Zeus, god of gods, called Daniel Reed Porter III to His Heavenly Pantheon on Nov. 21, 2006.

He (Porter, not Zeus) was the second White child born in the new maternity ward of Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton (Mass) on his father's birthday July 2, 1930. His mother Eleanor (Parsons) needed all the help she could get.

Porter was reared on a small farm with his siblings in Worthington. Sickly as a child, his parents often contemplated drowning him in Watt's Brook that flowed (trickled in summer) behind the house into which (the brook, not the house) they deposited other trash, sewage and cow manure.

After being partially educated in local schools, Porter matriculated in the class of 1952 at UMass, formerly Mass Aggie. Here he failed to distinguish himself in any meaningful way, and managed to alienate a number of his classmates and professors. Upon graduation without honors, Porter was drafted into the Army and served in Korea before and after the armistice. There he learned more than at college - never volunteer, be cowardly to survive, don't circulate petitions and keep away from indigenous females.

Returning home ill-prepared for an occupation, he was strangely accepted by the University of Michigan Graduate School where he tried to prepare for an acceptable if not respectable occupation.

A 35-year career as a museum and historical agency administrator and museum director followed. He moved from state to state five times to keep ahead of his reputation. He completed his career ignominiously in Cooperstown in 1992. On his demise, he was a member of no organization, club or charity.

Porter was not survived by his parents and sister, Janice Leroux. But surviving him are his relict, Joan (Dornfeld); a daughter, Leslie, her husband, Edward Easton III, and their daughters, Erika, Caitlin, and Allison, of Coudersport (God's Country), Pa.; his son, Andrew, and his wife, Amy (Pens), and their heir, Reed; a brother, Edward, and his wife, Shirley (Smith), on Watt's Brook; a brother-in-law, Al Leroux, and his Buick sedan of Northampton; and numbers of nieces and nephews.

There will be no final rites or any mumbo-jumbo. He will not lie in state at the The Farmers' Museum. His cremated remains will be scattered on Watt's Brook. Memorial gifts will not be accepted and cards are a waste of money.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. I am sure I would have liked Dan Porter, so I am sorry he died without taking the time to make my aquaintance. I appreciate that he took the time to write his own obituary though. My sympathies to those who knew him and will surely miss him very much.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. I a saddened to know I'll never meet him, but delighted that
    you have shared his last words.

    I too, had a marvelous self-effacing mentor whom I miss. My consolation is remembering our time together , her advice and so many "adventures", mostly creative and/or hilarious.

    Clearly, you know what I mean.

  3. Thanks, Christine, and CC. It says a lot about someone when the last impression they want to leave is laughter.

  4. anyone have a photo of Daniel Porter?

  5. Sounds about right. Real piece of work, Dan was.


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