This book took me more than twenty years to make a reality. It is the story of my father, the legendary art dealer, Samuel David, whose premature death threw me onto the front lines of the family business. Having been only three years involved after college, I was faced with the daunting challenges of total unpreparedness, a distraught mother who had lost her will to live and a terrible financial era in my face. As a family we pulled together and did the only thing we knew how to do; survive. There was no other avenue. We would do whatever it took to keep the ship afloat and limp back to the port of success which was at the long end of our darkness. We had to live out the dream Pop started and bring it to fruition. To do less would not be acceptable.
Chapter 2 ~ Unfulfilled Promise
Pop had been experiencing some fairly predictable warning signs toward the end. He was feeling more than just vague pressure in his chest every so often. It occurred mostly at night, but it was significant enough that he decided not to waste any time and got himself to the family physician for a physical examination. In the early 1970s, that meant a superficial blood pressure test in conjunction with a urinalysis, cardiogram, and basic blood work. He had undergone a mandatory complete physical for his pilot's license renewal prior to his death. He had passed with flying colors, but his symptoms were persistent enough to cause him sufficient doubt about the medical clearance he had received. A second physical revealed no more than the first. His cardiogram was normal, and his blood pressure was right on target. All signs pointed to a perfectly healthy specimen who either had habitual indigestion or a deep-rooted problem elusive enough to escape detection. Back then, we didn’t have an introspective battery of tests like we have today. He questioned why he had difficulty catching his breath after a flight of stairs or during only one block of spirited walking.
He was petrified—not of dying—but of losing his license to fly. If he were to be grounded by the FAA for health reasons, it would have been equal to imprisonment and a punishment he wouldn't have been able to bear. Banishment from the heavens could not be tolerated. And yet, he knew something was amiss in the medical analysis of his body's communication to him. The doctors were telling him that he was fine but he didn't feel it or believe it. He was extraordinary in his perception of things both inward and outward and he just wasn't buying the news from the world of medicine.
Early one morning, he was in the gallery with Annabelle, one of Mom’s sisters who worked with us for years, when he confided to her, "Annie, I think I've got a bad ticker." She suggested that he make an appointment with a heart specialist.
How frightening it must have been to count the days, not knowing which would be his last. There was so much to do yet, so much to see, and so little time in which to do it all. He had certainly crammed a lot of life into his brief but fiery years, but it wasn't enough. It's hard to judge who would be more cheated, he who would vanish forever, or everyone he touched who would have to continue on with life's journey without him. It would be a terrible tug of war but there would be no winners.
Alan was also aware of Pop’s degenerating strength. He would have to wait while Pop rested for a minute or two, every couple of blocks. How pathetic it must have been to watch helplessly as the irrepressible force of his strength dwindled so rapidly. A few weeks prior to his trip to London, Pop asked Alan, "What would you do if I died tomorrow?" Alan was stunned and totally unable to respond. Filled with worry, he began to contemplate the gelling realism of what he had suspected from the recent weeks of Pop's visibly declining health. Pop knew that Alan would be able to carry on the business, but he wasn't sure of the emotional repercussions of his death. Alan was extremely independent in his ways. At times he felt put upon or restrained from doing his own thing, which caused an occasional tense moment between the two of them. Pop only wanted the best for him, and as parents will do, exerted his opinions when he thought it necessary. Pop needed Alan in the business; he was a hard worker and there was an enormous amount of work to be done. It was nearly impossible as a one-man show, but through the earlier years when Alan was fresh out of Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania it was pretty much a solo enterprise. Alan wanted to be a stockbroker so he moved to New York and played that hand until he tired of it. He could have done any number of things, but eventually came back to the family business. As with any two generations, there were differences in opinions and philosophies regarding the most profitable way to administer the business, but for the most part they agreed in principle and worked well together.
Pop's dream was for Alan and me to run the business while he and Mom traveled aimlessly throughout the world, visiting far away lands and traversing foreign bodies of water on luxurious yachts while bathing in the various facets of opulence which the world had to offer. Pop was angry at the thought of being cut down in his prime and being robbed of the opportunity to relax a bit in the pleasure-laden years ahead.
In the final few weeks when Pop wasn't feeling well, Arlyn and I would visit with him. In response to our questions of concern he would say, "Aw, it's just indigestion; I'll be okay. Don't worry!" But I wasn't so sure. The antacids weren't working anymore and he wasn't getting any better. The tightening in his chest was becoming too frequent to be coincidental. He still enthusiastically insisted that the four of us go out to dinner at La Panetiere, the best French restaurant in Philadelphia, but we calmed him down and told him that we didn't come to eat, we just came to spend some time with him. It was plain to see that he was suffering discomfort every now and again and when he sat around listlessly, I worried. Though I was seriously concerned about him, it didn't occur to me that he was really mortal. I could not envision his being anything but alive; death was wholly out of the picture.
Could the crushing blow have been averted? The certificate of death indicated that his heart had suffered nearly total calcification, so even a bypass operation might have proven ineffective. In those days, that kind of procedure was relatively avant-garde. Double, triple, and quadruple bypass surgery was nearly unknown then, though if Pop had been afforded the opportunity to be the pioneer experimental patient, he would have unquestionably gone for it. He was not the kind to give up without a fight. One of his poker playing directives was that if you're going to lose it all anyway, throw in everything you've got for the grand finale, and just maybe you'll come out a winner.
The irony in all of this lay in a very private and tender conversation which Pop had with Mom the night before he left for London. She made him promise her that he would go to see a heart specialist as soon as he returned the following week. He swore faithfully to her that he would. That was the only promise he had ever made that he couldn't fulfill.