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
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:
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
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.
Jiraneks 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 childrens 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