Oats: Queens Visionary, Park Advocate and Tribune Editor
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I met him sometime in the early 1970's when he arrived at my house with my college buddy, Trib editor Gary Ackerman.
My memory of the adventure, the project we three shared at the time was dwarfed by the enthusiasm of then young David Oats.
But that moment began a journey of more than three decades where David, Gary, I and the Queens Tribune would grow and forever be intertwined.
For almost a third of my three decades as Tribune publisher, David was its editor. For the other two decades, he remained its conscience, advisor, prodder, challenger and source.
Through it all, he was my friend.
I remember him giving my then 5-year-old daughter Allsion a personal tour of Flushing Meadows Corona Park with camera in hand, going home and preparing for her a video of, "Allison's Day At The Park."
I remember the causes, the late nights, the passionate fights. I remember the fun, the excitement of being part of any effort with David, the dean of Queens Journalists.
I never met anyone like David and expect I never will.
Last week, I received an early morning call from his wife Corinne, David Oats had suddenly passed away.
With a tear in my eye, I wrote for last week's paper: "This paper and the Borough of Queens lost a dear friend when civic activist and borough historian David Oats suddenly passed away Tuesday night at North Shore University Hospital from complications from an infection. David was a New York World's Fair fanatic and the head of the Queens Olympic Committee. He served as editor of the Queens Tribune in three different decades. David kept the Tribune's heart - the newsroom - beating for almost half of this newspaper's life. He shall be missed by his loving wife Corrine and his family of Queens news junkies."
After quickly writing, I walked around the Trib office feeling sad. David was a friend who was always part of the Trib; did a piece for me as recently as December, and we kept in touch by email and periodic phone call. David was brilliant, gifted and creative but like so many remarkable talents he was haunted by his own demons and various health concerns. He was 58 when he died. He had no kids and his parents' death preceded him. And I sat in the office evaluating the 35 years of the on and off friendship we shared. It's sad that so much unrealized talent is gone forever.
There's something to be learned by his life but I wasn't in the teaching or learning mood then, nor am I right now.
It's time for me to contemplate and be sad.
It is also time for me to celebrate David's life - his rich smile, his devilish grin, his brilliant writing, his unyielding single-mindedness, but most of all his passion.
David Oats' passion for life, for his beliefs, for the people and things he loved, will for me, stand as his monument, forever as tall as any stadium he championed or tree he fought to preserve.
I wouldn't and couldn't accept alone, the task of memorializing David when he touched so many gifted writers. I reached out to some of the Trib alumni who learned at the knee of this Queens giant. Their words share these pages with mine. And, on page 6 of this paper, we propose a fitting tribute to David.
For all of us who worked with him, played with him, fought with him, learned from him, and taught him, David Oats was a one of a kind who we will treasure forever.
I'll miss David.
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Dignity, Love, Strength of Character
I don't envy anyone trying to do a proper obituary for David Oats .... in many ways he was more the stuff of legends than of newsprint. He was the puppet master behind dozens of shows that shaped the City into its current landscape, whether brining the USTA to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, learning and growing at the knee of Robert Moses, tearing down the facade of a threat to public health in a popular catering hall or saving landmarks like the Coney Island parachute drop.
The main problem is that through all of his civic activism, unending enthusiasm, stubborn and insistent daydreaming and infuriating single-mindedness that changed the borough of Queens and the City of New York, he never wanted to be the story. Even in later years when his physical struggles and triumph cried out to be used to help champion his causes, always he wanted to be the wizard you shouldn't look at behind the curtain and so the official record of his illustrious career as a master planner may be hard to pin down in print.
All that said, I wanted to add a few reflections of my own on David, should his obit writer want the observations of a journalist who spent over a decade running newsrooms and chasing stories in Queens.
To my best recollection, I probably spent about three years working alongside David at the Queens Courier in the late 90's. He was our special editions or special projects editor ... can't remember what title we made up but basically, in title, I, as editor in chief, was his boss ... but only in title. I wasn't qualified to be his boss and I knew it, though he never made me feel it and his objection to the office structure had nothing to do with me ... he just never did like the idea of anyone being his boss, ever.
But whatever our structured relationship then and later when I spent a year helping him overthrow New York City's ridiculous plan to put a stadium for the Jets in Manhattan instead of its perfect location in Queens, we were from the very moment we met, friends. We were introduced by a dear friend who wanted me to meet someone whose life wasn't only about newspapers, and from the first shaking of hands David and I made our own bubble in the crowded bar filled with nothing but newspapers, Queens and politics ... everything and everyone else melted away. He was a man of passion ... for the borough that he nurtured through life, for the City that he loved, for the newspapers that taught him how to help and change the world but most of all, for his wife whom he knew to be an angel that understood all his passions and loved him and his messy boxes anyway.
And David was a brilliant writer ... like the kids in schools who never have to study and still get A++. He never met a deadline that he felt he had to listen to, he hated doing anything but writing long hand, and every turn of phrase and structure of paragraph was moving and left you wondering what his mind could do if only it could be structured by a clock, some file folders, and something other than little crumpled pieces of paper with jotted notes on them.
In my mind he will forever be the brilliant Peter Pan who worked diligently to maintain his immaturity and at the same time be the epitome of what one soul filled with determination, dignity, love and strength of character can do to change the world. David Oats will be mourned and missed by all those whom he loved and made laugh, but his passing is also a loss to the civic life of Queens and the molding of our City's future journalists, activists and dreamers.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato