David Ker Schermerhorn, a long-time Orcas resident and activist who in 2008, at age 79, made history sailing on the first international boat to enter Gaza Harbor in 40 years, has died at age 89. Passionate about the rights of the Palestinian people, David attempted to sail back to Gaza again in 2008, 2009 and in 2010 as part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The six-boat flotilla was sailing in international waters when it was attacked by Israeli commandos. Nine Turkish civilians were killed and David lost partial vision in one eye after an Israeli commando detonated a stun grenade near his face. He and fellow passengers were taken by force to Israel where he was imprisoned for several days – Israel drew international condemnation for the attacks. In 2011, at age 82, David made a final attempt to reach Gaza on the Audacity of Hope before the boat was stopped by the Greek Navy.
In 2017, David again made history as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in U.S federal court against the State of Israel, seeking compensation for injuries sustained in the deadly 2010 attack. The group made legal history by arguing that Israel attacked American territory when it raided the U.S registered ship. As a final act of support for the people of Gaza, David made a tandem skydive from 18,000 feet, at age 88, in honor of the recent Gazan Right of Return protests.
David was a producer of television commercials for 35 years before retiring to Orcas in 1995. David produced many iconic campaigns, including American Express’ Don’t Leave Home Without It. At the time of his death, he was working on his directorial debut, a short documentary about an outdoorsman and muskrat trapper in Shasta County, California. David took up acting during his years on Orcas and acted in several local productions.
David was a lifelong adventurer, and made twelve dog sledding and cross-country ski trips to the Arctic, from Siberia to Greenland. His last trip, in 2006, was a three-week dog sledding trek to the North Pole. He suffered three broken ribs, pneumonia, and frostbite, and after a short recovery in the care of a Russian doctor who gave him ‘two horse pills washed down by a shot of vodka’, he continued on to reach the Pole. David was a mountain climber, skier, kayaker, and outdoorsman. He ran the New York marathon a dozen times.
David was born in New York City in 1929, and graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. David retired to Orcas Island in 1996 with his wife, Joan, before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2014.
David, a veteran of the Korean war, was politically active throughout his life and was involved in actions against the Vietnam and Iraq wars, in civil rights issues through ACLU committees, and in anti-Trump rallies with his daughter and granddaughter. David was close friends with the Roger Nash Baldwin, founder of the ACLU, whose final words to David before his death in 1981 were ‘never lose your sense of wonder’. David lived by those words. David was a lover of life, learning, laughter, and family, and was driven by a sense of curiosity, wonder, and of moral duty and responsibility to his fellow man.
David is predeceased by his beloved wife of 55 years, Joan, and they leave behind a son, David, a daughter, Kate, and grandchildren Sacha, Max, and Leila. A memorial will be held in Marin County, CA on Oct. 27.
Donations can also be made in David’s memory to https://www.mecaforpeace.org/