Friday, July 8, 2005

Robert Davolt, 1958-2005: Elegy for a Dinosaur

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #264, July 8, 2005)

PHOTO: Robert Davolt.

“San Francisco writer, publisher and humorist Robert Wayne Davolt, 47, died on the 15th day of May, 2005, after a brief battle with cancer . . . in which, obviously, the cancer came out slightly ahead.” These words begin Robert Davolt’s self-penned obituary. No one else could have done it like him.

Davolt was a multi-talented and prolific writer, editor, publisher, businessman and leatherman. He was best known for being the last editor of Drummer, the pioneering and iconic leather magazine, and for being the executive producer of the International Mr. Drummer contest.

After Drummer ceased publication Davolt wrote for many other publications, edited several issues of Bound & Gagged, and wrote an online column on <Leatherpage.com> that had a readership of nearly 125,000.

In 2003 he published his first book, Painfully Obvious: An Irreverent & Unauthorized Manual for Leather/SM (published by Daedalus, <www.daedaluspublishing.com>). The book was nominated for an American Library Association Stonewall Book Award.

Davolt’s next book, nicknamed GotterDrummerung: Twilight of the Odds, was to have been his full account of the demise of Drummer Magazine.

Davolt was born in Renton, Washington, and started writing and publishing while still in high school. At 17 he joined the U.S. Navy. He returned to the Seattle area after honorably completing his enlistment and earned two degrees at Highline Community College. He later completed a bachelor’s degree in Political Science at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

From Missouri Davolt relocated to Madison, Wisconsin, where he was a founder and officer of The Unicorns of Madison Leather/Levi Club and held the title of Mr. Wisconsin Leather/Levi Daddy 1994. He was an International Mr. Leather contestant in 1995.

In 1996 Davolt moved to San Francisco to become publisher and editor of Drummer. He was an active member of San Francisco’s leather community and held the title of San Francisco Leather Daddy XIX.

At the time of his death Davolt was a member of the board of directors of the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) in Chicago. Among other duties he served as press liaison for the LA&M mortgage-burning ceremony in February, 2005.

Quite apart from all that he accomplished, Davolt distinguished himself by his integrity, intelligence, caring, professionalism, high standards and (sometimes brutal) honesty. In his final column for Leatherpage.com he invited his readers to do what he had done his entire life: “ . . . if I have taught anything—if I leave you with anything—DO NOT accept second rate for yourselves. Always question; always challenge; always ask ‘why.’ Do what you want, but do your very best and do it to the very best standards you can establish.”

Davolt also had a unique and gentlemanly sense of personal style. He was often seen at leather events wearing either a leather necktie or a black uniform tie from his Navy dress blues. And both his dress leather hat and title vest were emblazoned with representations of a dinosaur.

Wearing the dinosaur symbolized that Davolt felt he was among “the last of breed that practices a more discreet, more cerebral, courteous and less impertinent denomination of leather.”

Davolt’s sense of leather propriety even extended to his frequent admonitions to his readers to tip their bartenders, and to tip appropriately: “ . . . if you can hear the tip hit the bar, you are being too cheap. Someone is bound to think you are straight.”

A memorial service was held in conjunction with International Mr. Leather (IML) 2005 on May 27 in Chicago. (This year would have been the twentieth time Davolt had attended IML.) A ballroom-full of shocked and grieving leathermen and leatherwomen listened as a dozen speakers remembered Davolt as leather leader, mentor and curmudgeon.

Davolt is survived by his loving partner of seven years, Joe Granese, of San Francisco, and by his parents, brothers and sisters in the Seattle area. According to his official obituary, “A private scattering will return the sailor to the sea on a date this summer to be announced [July 9] and after, a celebration of his life and sense of absurdity will be held at Daddy’s Bar at 440 Castro. In lieu of flowers, please remember the Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M) in Chicago and tip your bartenders.”

I will now dispense with the journalistic formality of calling Robert by his last name. Robert and I started as colleagues and ended as friends and mentors to each other. I am so glad to have had the privileges of writing the introduction to Painfully Obvious and doing an early editing of the manuscript. It saddens me immeasurably that I will not be able to ask Robert to write the introduction for my book, and that I will not have his guidance in getting it published.

I cherish every moment I was able to spend on the phone with him and every e-mail we exchanged. I especially cherish the times when we simply sat and talked during IML weekends and at other events.

Hail and farewell, Robert. I will miss you more than you could ever know.

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