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Damon Franz Rarey

Died: December 15, 2002

Damon Franz Rarey died on December 15, 2002. Born in Washington, DC, on March 18, 1944, he received a B.A. in art from Yale in 1968. He was a freelance illustrator and animator in the San Francisco Bay Area until 1976, when he became the graphics director for Hugh Downs’ PBS talk show, Over Easy. He also wrote and produced segments for Over Easy, which was distributed to over 250 PBS stations nationwide.

In 1977 he became a consultant at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a Xerox company. At PARC, Dr. Richard Shoup’s seminal SuperPaint graphics program allowed Damon to utilize the first frame buffer and the first graphical user interface in history. Using SuperPaint, Damon created the first nationally broadcast computer animations during the 10 days of NASA’s Pioneer Venus project, which were shown on the nightly news programs of ABC, CBS and NBC.

In 1980 Damon and Dr. Shoup founded Aurora Systems, the first company devoted to the design and manufacture of computer video graphic systems. Damon was vice president of marketing for the company, traveling extensively to perform sales and training in countries such as France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, England, Japan, Russia, and Brazil. He held this position until 1993, when he left to pursue his freelance illustration business full-time. He continued consulting for Aurora (now a division of Chyron Corporation, a TV graphics equipment manufacturer), helping in the development and documentation of the Aurora software called Liberty, which is used in television applications around the world, most visibly at CNN.

Damon started his illustration and animation company, Prism Arts Group, in 1990. Prism’s clients included Chevron, Bechtel, The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, ESPN X Games and other Bay Area companies.

In 1995 Damon created his first website, which featured his father’s World War II Air Force sketchbook journals and quickly won Netscape’s Best Site of the Week award. He self-published a book of his father’s artwork and letters, Laughter and Tears, based on the website. More recently, he spoke on the topic “Fathered By Cartoons” at the Ohio Historical Society’s “Kilroy Was Here” exhibit in Columbus, Ohio.

Damon lived in Santa Rosa, California for twenty-five years with his wife, Linda. They had three children together: Ondine, Jessica and Eli. He was active in church and community affairs, having been named to the board of directors of the Sonoma County Library Foundation. He also taught computer graphics at the Santa Rosa Junior College for several semesters.

Robert Garofalo remembers:

In the fall of 2002, Damon Rarey began to experience what he described as “a vertigo-type malady of some kind.” He died that December 15 of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a variant of “mad cow disease”. Once he was diagnosed, the end came quickly. The sadness of his life cut short is matched only by the joy he brought to those around him while he was with us. Damon always brought out the best in everyone. A cursory look at the memorial page on his website (www.rarey.com) quickly reveals the love and high regard that everyone in his life felt for him.

I first met Damon at Yale in September 1962 in Entryway B of Bingham Hall, as we were starting our freshman year. We became part of a close-knit group of friends that included Jon Else, Pat Fulton, Pete Kornblum, Howard Daniel, and Greg Teague, among others. None of us seemed to fit the Yale mold very well. I was a townie who played in a rock ‘n’ roll band. Damon was a down-home mid-westerner with an easy manner and an ingratiating smile. A regular guy. I can still hear him say, “Reebee, you’re a caution” — which sounded curiously corny and hip at the same time — whenever I said something funny. Damon was something of a “caution” himself, possessed of a delightful, self-effacing sense of humor that never failed to put a body at ease. He was also an avid reader and a talented artist who could capture everyday experiences with pen and ink in a way that few others could.

Our group quickly fell into a nocturnal schedule that routinely included staying up all night to discuss weighty issues, punctuated by trips to the Waldorf for coffee at 3:00 a.m. when the fresh hard rolls came in. Classes played second fiddle to expansive philosophical excursions, nightly water fights, and self-discovery. I felt closest to Damon; he was (and remains) one of the warmest, most accessible human beings I have ever met. In our all night bull sessions, I learned all about him and his family, especially his father, who was a World War II pilot and an incredible artist who documented his experiences in cartoon sketchbooks and watercolors before his plane was shot down over France. Damon clearly had a reverence for this man he never met, and their artistic styles were uncannily similar. Both of their legacies live on at www.rarey.com.

Our freshman year M.O. continued throughout our sophomore year, as we became more aware of pressing social issues, especially civil rights; and before our junior year was out, most us had quit school. Damon, Greg Teague, and I ended up as residential counselors at the North Carolina Advancement School in Winston-Salem, where we were responsible for groups of underachieving teenagers. There we met another lifelong friend, Sandy Blount, a fellow dropout from Wesleyan, who actually came from Winston-Salem. There were, of course, levels of irony in hiring us to advise eighth grade underachievers, but we were aware that we were doing important work. The Advancement School was funded heavily by Ford and Carnegie and was one of the first fully integrated schools in North Carolina — and it was residential. All in all, it was a year of life changing experiences, like the time that Damon and Sandy stealthily painted all the segregated water bubblers at the local country club the same dark green, making it impossible to distinguish the “black only” from the “white only” fountains, or the time that fellow counselor Al White took Damon and me to meet James Brown — yes, that James Brown — when he was playing at a black grade school gym up in the Piedmont. (Who knew Al wasn’t kidding when he told us that he had been one of James Brown’s bodyguards in the old days?)

Eventually returning to Yale to complete our degrees, Damon, Greg and I took an apartment together in New Haven, with another Yale dropout friend, Terry McConnell. Then we all headed to the four winds. Damon graduated in 1968 with a B.A. in art, and went to San Francisco. There he met his first wife, Connie Harvey, whom he eventually married in a Marin County ceremony that Sandy Blount described as “more ‘California’ than I could imagine. People drank beer or smoked a joint and played music and sang and danced and had a time that was more relaxed than was possible anywhere east of the Mississippi.”

In the early 1970s, our whole group converged on Cambridge, Massachusetts for a couple of memorable years before Damon moved permanently to the West Coast. At the time, second wave feminism exerted a profound influence on all our lives. On one of those occasions when the women in our lives were engaged in a women-only event, the men took a day trip to Cape Cod to ramble amidst the dunes in Provincetown. There Damon shot an endearing home movie which we lovingly titled “Husbands’ Beach Party.” Although it will probably never see the light of day — and that’s not altogether a bad thing — it is still a joy to behold for those of us who were there.

It was also during this period that Damon provided graphics services for a rock genealogy I had designed that later showed up in some most unlikely places like Ed Tufte’s outstanding graphics text, Visual Explanations. Unfortunately it wasn’t until after Damon’s death that his family got to see the chart displayed as a 30 foot installation created by artist Dave Muller for the 2004 Whitney Biennial.

By the late 1970s, although we hadn’t given up our youth, most of us began to pursue more “mature” personal and professional lives. From then on Damon and I saw each other only infrequently but remained in loose touch with each other. As an artist, Damon made the leap to computer graphics before most artists had ever seen a computer. In 1980 he and Dick Shoup founded Aurora Systems, described in Damon’s biography as “the first company devoted to the design and manufacture of computer videographic systems.” At his memorial service Dick Shoup noted that “Damon deserves to be remembered in the history books as the first graphic artist to use computer graphics on a regular basis in television.”

In the 1990s, his award-winning websites proved to be spectacular showcases for both his and his father’s artistic talents. And the self-published book he created of his father’s WW II sketchbook journals, Laughter and Tears, was a labor of love and a thing of beauty.

By this time Damon had long since remarried, settled in Santa Rosa, founded his own illustration and animation company, Prism Arts Group, and established a new family. He is survived by his wife, Linda, who is a nuclear medicine technologist at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital; children Ondine, a documentary filmmaker, Jessica, a homemaker, and Eli, a student filmmaker; and granddaughter Mia.

The last time I saw Damon was when my wife Deborah and I spent some time on the West Coast after a conference. Damon and Linda, Jon Else and his wife Nina, and Deb and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner in San Francisco. The old feelings of warmth, love, and good humor never felt better as we reminisced about the past and caught up on our present lives. My only regret of the evening was that I did not take a photograph to capture the moment.

Howard Daniel remembers:

I was shocked and greatly saddened when I looked at the class necrology to see that my freshman roommate, Damon Rarey, had passed away in December 2002. I am hardly the best-qualified person to write a remembrance since we had been only very sporadically in touch since leaving Yale. But I really liked Damon, and in looking over a wonderful website (www.rarey.com), it is clear that he did more than his part to make the world a better place and that he left his family a legacy to be greatly treasured.

Damon was an artist, through and through. At Yale, his most treasured possession was a book of woodcuts left to him by his father, also a talented artist, but during World War II a fighter pilot who was killed in action over occupied France less than a month after D-Day, when Damon was just three months old. During our freshman year, Damon, whose humorous streak was as wide as his artistic one, submitted cartoon after cartoon to the Yale Record. My favorite depicted the reception desk at the health department — a student hunched over the counter, dutifully filling out the paperwork — with the business end of a hatchet buried in his skull.

Damon left Yale for a time after our freshman year and worked with underprivileged young people before returning to New Haven and graduating with a degree in art in 1968. He then settled in the Bay area.

Professionally, Damon made art his life. To summarize the posthumous biography on his Web site: …he began as a freelance illustrator and animator; served as Graphics Director for Hugh Downs’ PBS Over Easy magazine show; created the first nationally broadcast computer animations during the 10 days of NASA’s Pioneer Venus Encounter in 1978; in 1980 co-founded Aurora Systems, the first company devoted to the design and manufacture of computer videographic systems; and in 1990 turned his full attention to his illustration and animation company, Prism Arts Group, which attracted a blue-ribbon clientele.

But it’s clear, from looking around the website, that Damon left an even more enduring legacy as a human being than as a professional. He inspired words and concepts like generous… laughter… warm… mentor… “like a brother”… “like a father”… “joy to be around”… “seemed to love everyone”… surrounded by “art and music and books.”

In his final days, several people recalled, he summed up his own life simply: “I have received.” Clearly, he also gave.

Damon is survived by his wife Linda, children Ondine, Jessica and Eli, and granddaughter Mia.