Robert Chandler, one of Bob Dion's writing partner, has written a wonderful obituary for Bob. It has been submitted to many publications, but due to the inconstancies of the newspaper business these days, it may not appear everywhere we would like. But I'm proud to publish it here ....
Bob Dion, a Calming Creative Force at
Tempestuous Chiat/Day, Dies.
Bob Dion, a key art director and creative executive at the iconoclastic and ground-breaking ad agency, Chiat/Day, during its ascendant years, has died in his Palm Springs, CA home. He was 78.
In reporting his January 9th death, his son, Rob, cited pulmonary fibrosis as the cause, after a long illness.
Mr. Dion spent the bulk of his 45 year career with two firms. First at Needham, Harper & Steers (now part of DDB) and later in the Los Angeles and then New York office of Chiat/Day, which he established with Jay Chiat in 1980. The agency was in 1995 acquired by Omnicom and merged to form TBWA\Chiat\Day.
Mr. Dion was notably understated and easy going in disposition, a stark contrast to the famously charismatic, volatile, and acerbic Chiat, who lead his agency to fame and creative acclaim by alternately inspiring and intimidating.
A good friend and peer of Jay’s in both age and mutual regard, Dion was able to anticipate imminent firestorms and provide a buffer behind which the eclectic, youthful, more easily cowed talent of Chiat/Day could continue to function. And deliver the audacious campaigns C/D was producing on both coasts, elevating the young shop into the first ranks of innovative ad agencies.
Lee Clow, now chief creative officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day, is a creator of the agency’s most famous commercial of that era, the Orwellian “1984” which launched Apple’s Macintosh computer. Clow recalls how, when interviewing with him in Dion‘s Needham days, “He took so much time coaching me encouraging me and telling marvelous stories about advertising adventures. Bob Dion was one of the more nurturing and helpful guys in the business.”
In New York, Dion served as creative director, overseeing campaigns for cruise line, Holland America, General Electric, upstart airline, New York Air, and the controversial investment banking firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert.
In this period, when America’s economic primacy seemed to be threatened by a rising Japan, a Dion spot for General Electric pictured Uncle Sam in closeup being slapped several times across the face, until Uncle takes the offending hands into a powerful grasp, lowering them with impervious aplomb.
Boston marketer, Noreen Young, his former client at Holland America observes, “The truly amazing thing is that Bob’s creative work done in the early 80's is still the core of Holland America communications all these years later.”
Jim Condon, a copywriter veteran of Needham, now 92, knew him from his start in that agency’s Chicago mailroom in 1960. Five years later, in the L.A. office, the two collaborated with creative director, Hal Kaufman, on the launch of what was to be a long running and famous campaign for Continental Airlines. “Hal was fixated on a line, ‘The rare bird with the golden tail.’ Bob and I kept saying, it had to be proud bird. For days Hal resisted, finally relenting just hours before presenting to
Continental founder, Bob Six. It was a close call.”
Mr. Dion, a native of Chicago, where he was born May 29, 1931, graduated from Western Michigan University in 1955. There he met and married his first wife, Nancy Perry, soon beginning a six-month Army stint.
Afterwards, Mr. Dion sold Burroughs business machines for an unhappy period until making his escape to the Needham mailroom. There, he eventually proved his talent and although he had never taken an art course, was promoted to art director on All Detergent, and then Morton Salt. “I was an admiring bystander like everybody else in the industry,” said Mr. Condon, “What an art director's dream! Not a word of copy, just beautiful graphics and the Morton signature.“
Dion inspired affection and respect throughout his career. Longtime Chiat/Day art director and CD, Yvonne Smith expressed sentiments that were typical: “Bob Dion was too nice to be in advertising. It made it all the harder to steal ideas from him (though it didn't stop me). He was as talented as he was generous and gracious.”
Mr. Dion is survived by his wife, Alberta. By his four sons by Nancy: Perry, Jeffrey, David, and Robert. By a fifth son, Benjamin, by his second marriage to Louise Seeley of Boise, ID. And by seven grandsons.
Veteran copywriter and creative director, Ken Segall, recounted a story from his days as apprentice copywriter and partner to Mr. Dion. Mr. Segall had allowed an incorrect address to be calligraphed into hundreds of elegant invitations for an important Chiat/Day event. Discovering this when there was very little time left to repair the mistake, “I picked my stomach up off the floor and went to break the news to him. Somehow Bob suppressed his desire to kill me and together we figured out a fix. The wrath of Jay was about to come down upon him, but I believe Bob was actually more concerned about not scarring his rookie writer for life.“