Eight Bells: Dan McConnell

Published on July 5th, 2017

Dan McConnell, an extreme sports public relations pioneer based in Seattle, WA, died on May 8 at the age of 72 years after a courageous battle against complications with diabetes.

Dan was a globe-trotting communications strategist and Crisis Consultant who worked on campaigns in the Everest of sailing as well as mountains. He continued to work up until the last few months of his life. His wife of 47 years, Jane, who travelled with him as they covered adventures around the world, was part of a unique, enduring partnership.

Dan McConnell

British sailing journalist Paul Gelder, who edited Yachting Monthly magazine for ten years writes:

“I circled the globe with Dan during the 1994-95 BOC Challenge Round the World Singlehanded Race when I wrote a book, ‘The Loneliest Race’ and Dan was Media Operations Director alongside Race Director Mark Schrader. During that 8-month epic Dan was the calm at the center of a raging publicity storm as three separate dramas unfolded and became front page news around globe.

“First, Brit Josh Hall was rescued from his sinking boat after hitting a shipping container off Brazil on the first leg, from Charleston to Cape Town. Then French superstar singlehanded sailor Isabelle Autissier, the only woman in the race, was dismasted in the Southern Ocean on leg two when waves smashed a five square meter hole in the coachroof of her 60ft yacht, EPC2 (Ecureuil Poitou Charentes 2).

“In one of the most dramatic rescue in ocean racing history, she was rescued by helicopter from a Navy frigate 1,000 miles south of Australia on New Year’s Eve. Questions were asked about the rescue cost in the Australian Parliament. Isabelle said: ‘Maybe I’m not worth a million dollars?’

“Finally, on leg three 70 year old Brit Harry Mitchell, sailing a 40ft yacht in Class II, was lost at sea 1,400 miles from Cape Horn. His body was never recovered.

“Dan belonged to a rare breed in the media – a newspaper man’s idea of a PR man. He was succinct, informative, sympathetic and always went the extra mile to help get the story out. He also had a secret weapon: an entertaining wit and wry humor when appropriate.

“In the forward to my book on the BOC Challenge, I wrote: ‘Anyone who can get away with calling Robin Knox-Johnston ‘cute’ to his face (at a UK press conference for the BOC Atlantic Challenge in 1994) had my admiration.’ Sir Robin took it in good jest, knowing that while cute means ‘pretty’ and ‘adorable’ in England, in America it means you’re clever and cunning!”

American sailing editor Herb McCormick recalls collaborating with Dan on a 13-month sailing expedition he took part in around North and South America. “In every instance, Dan was a great boss – direct in his opinions and instructions, nurturing when he needed to be, a natural teacher, praiseworthy when justified, fair and honest at all times.”

One of Dan’s proudest achievements was climbing to Everest base camp 2 with Lou Whitaker as the PR director for the expedition’s support team. Dan worked with an eclectic group of clients including six Olympics, several BOC Challenge sailing races, countless Cirque du Soleil performances and several motor cross races.

As the former managing director of DDB Public Relations, a worldwide marketing communications agency, he built a national and international reputation and worked with more than 300 companies, organizations and individuals, including ABC Sports, the Kennedy White House, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. He was also a former newspaper correspondent and television news producer.

Dan was born October 5, 1944 in Noblesville, Indiana and served in the US Army as a First Lieutenant. To honor Dan’s legacy, endowment donations can be made at http://giving.uw.edu/mcconnell.

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