David Bunnett, a man whose artistry, intellect and desire to serve brought energy to West Marin for four decades, died from a heart attack in the garden of his Inverness Park home on Oct. 13. He was 65.
David left behind his partner, Ellen Shehadeh, his son, Will, and countless friends and collaborators. These included fellow directors of the boards of KWMR and the Coastal Health Alliance, and the staff of The West Marin Citizen, where he wrote, photographed and edited until his death. He helped the health alliance and radio station weather episodes of crisis, solving problems he saw as mental puzzles to unlock, Will said.
“David had unlimited ideas,” said Gail Graham, the vice president of KWMR’s board. “He had such a strong ethic about care and generosity, about doing the right thing, about keeping people engaged in a positive way. He had a real touch for that. His leadership style was very inclusive.”
David was equally adept at sussing out problems. “He liked to have a devil’s-advocate look at things,” said Amanda Eichstaedt, the station’s executive director. “He always looked at what might go terribly wrong.”
Friend and colleague Mike Witte, who invited David to join the health alliance board in the early 2000’s, said he was invested in transparency. David was instrumental in launching the nonprofit’s Bolinas branch, and as both board vice president and a member of the finance committee, he helped guide the organization through economic difficulties. As a result, the group is thriving, said board president Diana Wara.
But, she added, “He was the person who consistently made certain that we never ignored the needs of the people who lived in West Marin.”
He also had a facility with the written word. “He could capture in few paragraphs the real essence of who or what he was writing about,” Ms. Wara said. “David was able to just synthesize and distill the essence in a way that most people can’t do.”
In his last edition as co-editor of The Citizen, he composed the cover story about health care reform and snapped the accompanying photo.
Will said his father’s interest in writing was born of a desire to foster and engage in community discussion. “He was interested in writing with a mission,” he said.
David was born in Portland in 1948, and moved with his family numerous times as his father, a university professor, took various positions around the country. In 1966, after spending his high school years in Providence, R.I., he alighted in Boston to attend Brandeis University, where he met his former wife, Wendy Friefeld.
“What I always liked was, if we were listening to music or going to a play or movie or reading a book, he always had unique insights that could give it a new twist or make it deeper or more interesting,” Ms. Friefeld said.
In college he would leave little notes on her door. “I came by to see you and waited a while, catch you at dinner,” one might say beside doodles of himself sitting and waiting.
In 1970, the pair moved to San Anselmo, but gradually they made their way west. They bought a home in Inverness Park in 1973, and soon became engaged with the newly founded Dance Palace Community Center. David worked as an artist and designer.
“There were a lot of us in our 20’s coming from the hippie movement, and it just felt like there was great creative energy,” Ms. Friefeld said.
In 1976, David joined a cohort of young West Marinites who started the Tomales Bay Times, a biweekly newspaper that focused on arts and culture. David illustrated for the 25-cent publication, which was produced for exactly one year, said Elizabeth Whitney, who organized the editorial content.
“There was an atmosphere where creative people wanted to be with each other, and we manifested stuff,” she said. David’s artistic contributions keenly synced with the tenor of the experimental publication. “His intellect was incredible,” she said.
Over the years, downtown Point Reyes has been a testament to David’s artistry. The Station House Café and the Palace Market still display the signs David created in the 1970’s, and an old logo for the Dance Palace and signs for other area restaurants were his, too.
“He set the style of West Marin through the 70’s and 80’s, with his quiet contribution,” said friend Dewey Livingston.
In 1980, David began working for a film company as a production illustrator, and eventually he moved on to a video game company, where he worked until about 10 years ago.
Around that time, Dr. Witte fondly recalled, David and another board member decided that the health alliance should have a 25-foot tall red helium-filled balloon bearing the organization’s name in the Western Weekend parade. “He didn’t have in mind the wind, necessarily,” he chuckled. “Everyone was looking at it with terror in their eyes.”
“Always, always when something was really fun, you just shake your head and wonder, ‘How did they make that happen?’ David was often at the center of it,” Dr. Witte said.
David possessed a diverse set of interests in environmental sustainability, politics, health care reform, movement building and current affairs. His strong sense of values were passed on to his son, who worked on the Obama campaign in 2008 and now works for a consulting firm that creates digital strategy for Democratic campaigns.
“Putting your values first and putting them into action were both things that would get a lot of positive reinforcement in my family,” Will said.
Will, who now lives in San Francisco, said that the past week has reminded him why his father had rooted himself in West Marin. “Coming back here and seeing the community reaction to my dad’s death—not just seeing it, but also feeling it, and going for sandwiches at Perry’s and having people talk to me about my dad, it reminds me that a lot of the community that my parents loved when they moved here is still here,” he said.
David is survived by his son, Will; his father, Joseph; his brother, Alfred; and his partner, Ellen Shehadeh. A memorial celebration will take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 3 at the Dance Palace Community and Cultural Center. Light music, brief remarks from family and storytelling are planned. Bring photos, items, memories, anecdotes and something to eat or drink.