Alan Gross, a supremely good person, dies at 80 after a 43-year dance with cancer

Yes, he is well-known for founding and leading the large healthcare advertising agency Gross Townsend Frank Hoffman in New York City from 1978 to 1993. And yes, after retirement, he was knighted by the queen of the Netherlands for his many years of volunteer work on the Dutch island of Bonaire, his adopted home for many years. But it’s not what he did, it’s who he was that’s important. He should be remembered for his kindness and goodness, two traits not always praised in today’s world. Beyond his personal achievements, he will be remembered by the many lives he touched and made better.

He was smart as a whip but never lorded it over others (except when he did his crossword puzzles in ink.) He never boasted or bragged, except to boast of other’s achievements. He was never mean or mean spirited. He almost always found the good. He was a natural leader and mentor, showing people how to be intellectually honest while competing fairly. He was a great teacher, but he never lectured. You had to pay attention and watch.

He helped many of us find ourselves. But he was also a ‘cowboy’, never reined in by the conventional. He pushed the envelope and pushed others, even to make mistakes. (As long as it wasn’t the same mistake twice.) He set the bar high for all of us, never settling for the easy answer. He helped others to be their best, to be even more creative — while staying on strategy, of course.

And what a sense of humor! He loved to laugh, with the most joyous sound that would echo down hallways. He even laughed at cancer. Thumbed his nose at it several times. He was so courageous, starting a business the year after he was first diagnosed and treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his mid-30s. And undergoing multiple treatments over the next 37 years.

Courageous again when he became patient #28 in a CAR-T clinical trial for lymphoma in 2015, which gave him an extra five years. And yet again in 2018 when second cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, hit and ultimately took his life. For 43 years he danced with cancer, never complaining, never asking ‘why me?’ and never really slowing down. Some suspect he was the Energizer Bunny in disguise.

He has been an inspiration. He was also a visionary and a dreamer. Sometimes the impossible dream. (Yes, Don Quixote was his hero.) And he inspired many strikes out on their own as he did. He was a loving, caring father, always encouraging his two sons to go their own way, never demanding or smothering. And the best husband, partner, and friend a woman could have. Innovative, inspirational, imaginative, intelligent, indelible.

A lot of i-words but he rarely used the capital “I” word. He was self-less and self-effacing. Wise and generous, patient and passionate. Loving and caring. As one dear friend wrote: “You are both quiet and loud. You are both demanding and accepting. You are both strong and gentle. You are the most wonderful mix of unexpected juxtapositions.

How do you pull that off?” He was a positive force that made this world a better place for many and made some of us better people. So many have said the world lost a good man today, but he will forever live on in our memories.

By George de Salvo

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