Journal entry by Sarah Kline —
Dear friends, this is David’s wife – Sarah, with some sad news to report.
David Kline passed away at the age of 70, on November 7th, after a valiant 20-month battle with esophageal cancer. David is survived by his heartbroken wife, Sarah, and his three children: Daniel (his son from his previous marriage to Anita Kline), Oliver and Charlotte. He also leaves behind his mother Ruth, brothers Larry and Andy, plus sisters- and brothers-in-law Dave, Kate, Polly, Christian, Linda and Mary, who too loved him dearly. Also left in the sorrowful wake are dearest friends Dan, Julie and Joe, plus nephews, nieces and countless friends and co-workers who adored him beyond measure.
In lieu of the traditional obituary, in which accomplishments and milestones are trotted out in a customary linear fashion, I believe David is best remembered for the exemplary qualities he embodied until his final breath. In life, most people only see puzzle pieces of a loved one (reflecting certain years or particular components of one's personality) but David's legacy warrants giving all of you a sense of the totality of the human being he was.
INTELLIGENCE. David was an intellectual powerhouse, graced with the most nimble and expansive mind I've ever encountered. The irony is that he attended college for just a few short months before setting his sights on worldly adventures, but ended up writing books for publications like Harvard Press, and became one of the "World's Top Intellectual Property Strategists.” David was an impressively astute autodidact who, until the very end, was able to process mammoth amounts of complex (and often conflicting) information and communicate in a way that was not only understandable, but succinct and enormously persuasive.
CURIOSITY AND INITIATIVE. When most people followed the traditional route of college and first jobs, David decided to travel the world and go after his own bucket list. His journey to become a journalist and war correspondent didn't begin with a formal education or a collegiate introduction, but rather with a plane ticket he bought himself. He didn't ask for permission to cover world events that dominated the narrative; he just went there and then wrote about what he saw, so compellingly and eloquently that newspapers and magazines soon gobbled up his work.
He was the first Western reporter to go behind the lines in Afghanistan and report on the developing anti-Soviet war in the 80's. He was also the first U.S. reporter to cover famine and war in Ethiopia and to document the U.S. failed war on drugs by infiltrating (and barely escaping the wrath of) the Cosa Nostra in Bolivia. David's exploits were so well known and regarded that NPR's Daniel Schorr once referred to him as "one of the world's best ‘Mission Impossible’ reporters.”
In later years, David's curiosity and initiative continued to be on full display. This high school graduate taught himself everything he needed to know about the complex subject of intellectual property and went on to write "Rembrandts in the Attic,” a groundbreaking (and still, twenty years later, relevant) treatise on patent strategy and intellectual property and its role in corporate America. Up until the end, David was always reading up on a myriad of subjects that sparked his interest: philosophy; history; space — his Kindle library spanned everything from simian intelligence to black holes to obscure historical figures.
In a strange twist of fate, it was David's curiosity and initiative that probably gave him that last year with us. Plagued with strange symptoms two years ago, his concerns were dismissed by his then-doctor, who actually tried to dissuade David from inquiring further, as he saw his symptoms as inconsequential. In typical Kline fashion, David self-diagnosed, and then pursued the truth with an unrelenting resolve. Had he not learned the truth when he did, he would likely have left us within a few months, and we would not have been blessed with the 20 months we ultimately had together.
COMPASSION. One of the things I most loved about my husband was his extraordinary ability to communicate at the same level with every single person he ever met. It didn't matter if he was talking to a retired judge who pursued justice during Watergate or the fellow who makes sure we don't have critters in the attic; David treated that person with an open mind and the utmost respect. It was the same compassion that drove him to document famines in Africa, and to write checks to countless strangers in need. David cared deeply and passionately about those around him, and his ability to relate to everyone and anyone was extraordinary.
An interesting aside to this is my recent discovery of how many strangers have been touched by David’s extraordinary compassion in online cancer websites. I've recently learned of the scope of that reach, encompassing legions of cancer patients who hung on his every word and the unflinching details of all he experienced. I've had untold strangers reach out to me and tell me how impactful David's words of comfort were to them, and how many hours he devoted to them personally in attempts to advise, problem solve or console. They, like us, are heartbroken by his passing.
BRAVERY. David's whole life demonstrated bravery (both professional and personal) but never was it on greater display than in his heroic battle with Stage 4 esophageal cancer. For those happily oblivious to this unspeakably cruel disease, the treatment (tortuous) and surgery (barbaric) involved are ungodly. Nonetheless, David never complained, and treated each setback with a steely resolve and a fiery desire to stay alive so that he could see his beloved children grow up, spend more time with me, and better set us up financially.
His trusted oncologist (who became a dear friend and confidant) told me after David’s death that his fight had been one of the most heroic and sustained battles he'd ever witnessed, and he was going to miss his friendship dearly.
It's easy to be brave when you're feeling good and the odds are in your favor, but when you're left with the aftermath of misery post-surgery (David's esophagus, half of his stomach and many lymph nodes were removed), and months of chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy, it must be a Herculean task to be brave.
Every day he'd get dressed and go to work -- even at the end, when his office was just a table set up by the bed.
When I asked him how he kept forging ahead while feeling so horrific (and knowing that so many would just give up or surrender to blissful rest), he always said he needed to take care of his family -- that was his #1 job. He had no desire to wallow, nor time to dally.
(It was a family joke that he always said that he would need to work until he died, and this proved sadly prophetic. His "retirement" lasted about 72 hours and ended up with him dying in my arms at home.)
DEVOTION TO FAMILY. The thing that sticks with me most is that even with all his adventures and accomplishments, he always commented on the fact that the one thing he most loved about his life was his kids.
David remembered wanting to be a Dad as early as five years old, and he loved Daniel, Oliver, Charlotte passionately, intensely, unwaveringly. His kids brought him such profound joy that it was palpable, even to the many strangers who commented on how in love he was with his kids, and with the experience of parenting. I feel so blessed that this incredible supernova of a guy was someone I was able to spend a little over two decades with, and that he was the Dad to our two devoted kids (I know his ex-wife Anita, now a dear family friend, feels the same way about David and Daniel).
Speaking of Anita, that was another thing that was so incredible about David. If he ever cared about you, he continued to love you throughout all his days. Lovely Anita was a prime example of that; they met when they were in their 20's, fell in love, and it was with her that he first was able to realize his dream of fatherhood when he and Anita adopted Daniel as an infant in Colombia and brought him back tohis new home in America.)
Even after David and Anita divorced years later, they continued to be co-parents to Daniel and close friends until the end of his life, sharing major holidays with David’s side of the family even after David and I had moved to Portland I. too have been blessed to find comfort and solidarity with this remarkable woman. Together I know we will grieve for the man we love-- and lament the fact that future grandchildren from Daniel, Oliver and Charlotte will never get to meet their incredible grandfather.
So that's my David -- or just a thumbnail glimpse into the fierce and fiery cannonball life that was David Kline. World adventurer. Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist. Best-selling writer and screenwriter. Relentless pursuer of truth and knowledge. Tireless advocate of the underdog. Active and exceedingly generous community member. Devoted son, husband, father, brother, friend.
He is missed beyond measure and the void left in his absence seems bottomless. As my kids and I navigate a world without him, we will all try to summon just a sliver of the strength and grace that he so abundantly carried, and try to make him proud.
Thank you all for your remembrances and kindnesses -- they mean more than you can ever imagine.
** In lieu of flowers, some of our friends have set up a GoFundMe page for Oliver and Charlotte’s college funds (search for KlineStrong). With much gratitude and love.
KLINESTRONG, Charlotte & Oliver College Fund, organized by Karmen Von Arx
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