Don Pegler was known in advertising for drawing animated characters. He was known to everyone else in his life as a man of character.
Don, an advertising legend, died last Monday after a battle with cancer. During his career as an illustrator and art director at Foote, Cone & Belding he created the Raid Bugs for S.C. Johnson. I had the pleasure of working with him near the end of his career and in his so-called retirement.
His personal story is right out of the Greatest Generation. An Army veteran, he seemed to have lived the classic Post-war American story. Don and his wife, Bridie, raised seven children in an impossibly modest (read: small) house in Park Ridge, Illinois. The photos on display at his wake showed the progression of time measured in children, grandchildren, confirmations and weddings. And of course many of his illustrations were on display.
It sounds quaint, almost cliché, to say he was a family man, active in his community. Don’t let cynicism lead you astray, because he was both of those things. The last two times I saw him were at a Park Ridge City Council meeting and at his house when my children and I stopped in to check on him. We didn’t have to check on him, of course; while we there his daughter Laurie arrived to do just that. It was clear from their easy rapport that Don had been a tremendous husband and father.
As I talked to his family, friends and neighbors this week, the memories told a tale of a man who not only treated other people well, but gave people a good feeling about themselves. We could all emulate Don’s character because it was based on simple things. A kind word. A ready smile or a good joke. A willingness to step up and do something positive rather than just complain. There was also a charming irreverence about Don (and his work). Chicago art rep Tom Maloney summed up Don well in a tweet: "Decent, humble and fun." You took him seriously because he never took himself seriously. Don inspired good things in others.
At FCB, many of Don’s friends worked on the S.C. Johnson account, which officially left the agency one month ago today. To the people who worked on SCJ, Don meant something. He symbolized our achievements: Just as the Raid Bugs is the longest-running, most-global ad campaign in history, many other accomplishments helped SCJ grow into a multibillion dollar enterprise.
More than that, Don’s example should inspire us on a personal level. That’s really his true legacy. Not what he did, but who he was.
(Please click here to read a wonderful tribute to Don written by Karen I. Hirsch, a Chicago-based photographer and former FCB colleague. Karen gets the credit for the above image of Don and his bugs.)