Tuesday, August 19, 2003


Awful news has arrived: The remarkable originator of Through the Eyes of Children: The Rwanda Project, someone whose good works were beyond admiration, is dead.

His close friend, Jenifer Howard, writes, "It is with the heaviest heart that I let you know that a terrible accident claimed the life of our friend, David Jiranek, on Saturday night. While on the last night of his vacation in Canada, he went for a swim with friends and did not surface. ... We, his friends and family, are all reeling from this shocking news and trying to cope with the loss of an amazing person. David touched so many lives during his brief time in this world and truly made a difference."

I knew David Jiranek too briefly and met him only once. But that once, a month ago, was enough to confirm the deep generosity, personal warmth and rare humanity I sensed from our e-mail exchanges. Given what I knew of the Rwanda Project, which enabled young orphans to express themselves through photography, I had expected to meet an elderly gentleman-philanthropist perhaps, possibly a Czech emigré who was a professional photographer.

Instead, David turned out to be a ruggedly handsome American in the bloom of life (he was 45), an actor-turned-writer with an amateur's interest in photography. He told me he had traveled to Africa and come upon the Imbabazi Orphanage only by chance. But he was so taken by the spirit of the place, the kindness of its founder, Rosamond Halsey Carr, and the openness of the children, that he never really left.

David came back to Connecticut, where he lived, and returned to the orphanage with a batch of disposable cameras. He set up a photography workshop and taught the children how to take pictures, the results of which can be seen here.

Then he started raising money for the orphanage. So little was needed to keep it going, he said -- perhaps $40,000 a year to finance salaries for the staff and food and clothing for the children -- that it would have been unthinkable not to devote himself to that task.

We exchanged gifts. He gave me a print of "Gadi" by Jacqueline. I gave him a book of photographs by my old friend Steve Deutch. Neither David nor I knew the other would be bringing a gift. He invited me to the opening of "Lysistrata" in September, which he was producing Off Broadway, and told me he would be going back to Rwanda in November. We parted with the idea of getting to know each other better.

His loss makes me feel so much sadder than our brief acquaintance would seem to warrant that I can't explain it. David's untimely death is a devastating loss for the children of the Imbabazi Orphanage and a tragedy for his family and friends.


Until moments ago, when I read an e-mailed draft of David Jiranek's obituary, written by his brother-in-law Joe Hooper, all I knew of David was what I wrote earlier today (above). I had no idea of the breadth of his accomplishments. He never gave me so much as a hint of them.  

Here is the complete obituary:

David Jiranek, a Broadway producer, a writer, a photographer, and a highly successful businessman in the field of brochure distribution, died on Sunday, August 17, 2003 in a swimming accident while vacationing with his family in the summer community of North Hatley, Quebec. He was 45 and lived in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.
David Jiranek was a man of boundless energy and uncommon talent, making his mark in a number of fields in the course of his abbreviated life. His professional theater life began early, just after he graduated from New York University. Teaming up with his friend and colleague, Broadway producer David Weil, and with theater legend John Houseman, Mr. Jiranek served as the associate producer for the 1981 Broadway production of the William Alfred drama, "Curse of an Aching Heart." The production starred Faye Dunaway. With characteristic humor, Mr. Jiranek wrote in “Playbill,” “After Miss Dunaway fired their limo driver, and the two producers froze their hands flyering the TKTS line, the show closed.” In 1982, Mr. Jiranek co-produced the New York premiere of the David Mamet play, “Edmond,” for the Off-Broadway Provincetown Theater which won two Obie Awards, one for best play. Persuaded that the theater world could market its product with more ingenuity, Mr. Jiranek and Mr. Weil in 1984 founded their own marketing firm, CTM Brochure Display, with Mr. Jiranek as President and Mr. Weil as CEO. In time, the company outgrew its niche in the theater business to become the second largest brochure distribution company in the nation, indeed in the world. The company, headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, with thirteen offices in the U.S. and Canada, operates brochure stands in hotel lobbies and transportation hubs, advertising Broadway shows, ski vacations and tourist attractions of every description.
Even before Mr. Jiranek and Mr. Weil sold CTM Brochure Display in 2000, they were directing their energies back into the theater. In 1999, the pair, with Cricket Hooper Jiranek, Mr. Jiranek’s wife and business partner, formed a theater production company, CTM Productions. That year, the group co-produced the Broadway blues revue, "It 'Ain't Nothin' But the Blues," which played first at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center and then at the Ambassador Theater. Later that year, the trio produced a Broadway revival of “Fool Moon,” a two-man show starring Bill Irwin and David Shine, which won a Tony Award for Special Theatrical Event. This past spring, Mr. Jiranek and company co-produced comic Bill Maher's biting and critically-praised one-man show, “Victory Begins at Home,”  at the Virginia Theater. Mr. Jiranek was slated to direct a production of “Lysistrata” from his own translation for the Off-Off-Broadway Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre Company, where he served as president of the board. He had completed a draft of the script days before his death. The production is scheduled to go forward at the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre October 24, 2003, through February 5, 2004. Mr. Jiranek was also a member of the League of American Theatres and Producers. 
Beside his love for the theater, David Jiranek had a passion for photography, for adventure and for working with disadvantaged children. Improbably, he combined all three with his recent Project - Through the Eyes of Children.  Three years ago, he traveled to African nation of Rwanda to document in photographs the after-effects of the horrible genocide of 1994. While there, Mr. Jiranek befriended the children of the Imbabazi Orphanage and taught the children, who had never seen a camera, how to take pictures. The Imbabazi Orphanage is founded and still run by 90-year-old American matriarch Rosamond Carr, to care for the young survivors of the Hutu-Tutsi genocide. (In “Gorillas in the Mist,” the film about gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, the Rosamond Carr character is played by the actress Julie Harris.) The photography experiment with the orphanage yielded a trove of astonishingly beautiful images created by the children which became the basis for a photography exhibition in Rwanda's capital city and at various galleries in the U.S., most recently this past June at the Freida and Roy Furnam Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater in the Lincoln Center. (The photographs can be seen on the Rwanda Project Web site.)
Mr. Jiranek took a special interest in one of the orphans, Frederic Ndabaramiye, a teenager and aspiring artist who managed to draw and take photographs without the use of hands, having lost those to a group of machete-wielding Hutus. (Frederic is himself a Hutu; he was punished for disobeying orders to help murder a busload of Tutsis.) Mr. Jiranek played an important role in surmounting political and logistical obstacles to bring Frederic to the United States last year to be outfitted with prosthetic hands. ABC News and Charles Gibson filmed a segment about Frederic and his story at that time. Mr. Jiranek had hoped to see the piece air on "20/20" to help raise awareness for the plight of these extraordinary children in Rwanda.
Mr. Jiranek believed so strongly in helping the Rwandan orphans achieve a better future that he subsidized the entire Rwanda Project himself. He also raised money for the children by soliciting donations, using the children’s photographs as a fund-raising vehicle. It is the wish of his family and his colleagues involved with the Rwanda Project that the Project should endure, for the sake of the children and as a fitting legacy for David Jiranek.
David Jiranek is predeceased by his father, prominent furniture designer Leo A. Jiranek of Old Greenwich, and by his half-brother Henry Heald. He is survived by his wife Cricket Hooper Jiranek and their two daughters, Harriet Carrington “Cat” Jiranek, age 7, and Sailor Jennings Jiranek, age 4, of Old Greenwich, his mother Elaine “Jen” Jiranek, of Old Greenwich, and a large, extended family that includes four half-brothers, Theodore "Teke" Hoffman, R. Todd Hoffman, Robert H. Jiranek, and James Heald Jiranek.
There will be a private memorial service to be held outdoors at Lucas Point Beach in Old Greenwich this Sunday, Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Rwanda Project. To make a contribution, visit how to help on the Web site.

posted by janherman @ Tuesday, August 19, 2003