David Disney, a prominent attorney and civic activist in the Harrisburg, PA area, died on March 14, 2010 after a long struggle with MDS, or myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder also known as preleukemia. He had retired early, in 2005, from a major Harrisburg law firm, to wage his medical battle.
David arrived at Carleton in 1962 following two years at Kenyon College, Ohio, and graduated with a psychology major in 1964. He signed up for U.S. Army Officer Candidate School and trained at Ft. Sill, OK before being assigned, as a second lieutenant, to a mechanized Army artillery battalion in Giessen, Germany. He later completed his three years of military service as executive officer and cadre technical officer in the infantry officer training school at Ft. Benning, GA. After a year working for Eastman Kodak, David enrolled at Columbia law school in 1968, and graduated in 1971. He joined McNees, Wallace and Nurick in Harrisburg, PA, where he became a partner and spent his entire 35-year legal career. He developed an expertise in tax-exempt finance, becoming a nationally known authority and lecturer on municipal bonds and other tax-exempt instruments. He also served as a longtime board member of the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association.
On a personal level, David was a tennis player, an avid runner, and later in life, an aspiring golfer. He completed several Harrisburg marathons, and proudly kept the ribbon he won for finishing the New York City marathon in 1980. His first love, however, was the water, dating from childhood summers in the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York. In a posthumous tribute, his law partner Frank Hess recalled: “David was a frustrated sailor. For many years, he owned power boats based on Chesapeake Bay, which got bigger and more elaborate as years went by. Many of his friends enjoyed wonderful days on David’s boats, inevitably ending up at St. Michael’s on the eastern shore, where hard-shelled crabs were hungrily devoured, washed down by suds of choice.” Hess also praised David’s exceptional judgment, attention to detail, wit, problem-solving ability, kindness to others and his generosity to his friends.
David was an active and respected leader in his community. He served as campaign chair, and board chairman, for the Harrisburg United Way. He was counsel to the Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce’s Capital Region Economic Development Corporation and the Dauphin County Industrial Development Authority. He was a co-founder and board chair of the Harrisburg Board of Leadership. He served as volunteer counsel to Planned Parenthood, and to the Pennsylvania ACLU in a landmark case that established procedures for expunging arrest records. He helped renew downtown Harrisburg as a member of the Harrisburg Development Corporation board. In 2002, David married the former Dorothy Stewart, shortly before MDS began sapping his strength and reducing his ability to work. During this later period, with her loving care, he kept active and upbeat. Confined increasingly to home, he built an elaborate HO model train layout there in his later years that is, by all accounts, a wonder to behold.
He also reconnected with Carleton, attending mini-reunions in Utah and Carlisle, PA as well as the 40th class reunion in Northfield. “He was an elegant man, a very private man,” Dorothy said. “He loved Carleton, and his only regret was that he didn’t go there for the entire four years. He will be with you at your 50th.”