Just a little over two months ago, The Nation Institute honored Don Shaffer at our annual gala dinner. Yesterday, we were deeply saddened to learn of his death. Don was 84 years old but that number didn't capture his vitality and energy. After a long career in the insurance industry, Don got a law degree from NYU at a stage in his life when many people would be content to sit back and relax. His dedication to making this country a better, safer, more democratic place was evident to all who knew him. He was a wonderful friend, mentor, supporter, and counselor, a no-nonsense person who said exactly what he thought, but softened it with his quick wit and warm smile.
For Don, the central question was always, "what do we need to get the work done," and when he found what that was, he did it, or helped make it happen. For us at The Nation Institute, that meant that he was an invaluable resource. Don, along with his late wife Doris, who passed away in 2009, were the first to offer their help when we needed funding for fellowships. But the financial support was the least of his contribution. Don had an incredible ability to bring people together on the issues that he cared about. At our dinner gala last year when we gave him an award to honor his lifelong dedication to progressive causes, we were amazed at the outpouring of love and support from his friends and admirers. After Doris passed away, he inaugurated a series of memorial lectures in her name every summer that we helped cosponsor. In 2012, the lecture focused on the promotion of dialogue around and on deepening the understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Don and Doris had an exemplary public and private partnership. They were devoted to their three sons and seven grandchildren and together they were tremendous cheerleaders of The Nation Institute and the Nation. They shared their enthusiasm for our work with a number of their friends and colleagues, thus helping to grow our circle of supporters. We cannot imagine an event that either organization held over the last twenty years that did not include them in the audience. The Shaffers' generosity in supporting the work of Nation Institute fellows such as Jonathan Schell, Katha Pollitt, and most recently, Eric Alterman, was indispensable.
Don led a public life of conviction, principle, and accomplishment, from his early important work with the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, his battles against racial discrimination on Long Island, and his efforts with the New York Civil Liberties Union, to his contributions to the anti-nuclear movement as treasurer of SANE in the 1980s, his participation in the Presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, and his work with Peace Action and the Working Families party.
What made Don so extraordinary was his determination, his love of life, and his passion for the causes and issues that he believed in. To us at The Nation Institute he was an inspiration and we will miss him deeply. We will take a bit of his spirit with us always.
We convey our sincere condolences to his family.