David putnam dies at 91; civic leader, industrialist obituaries sentinelsource.com electricity usage calculator south africa


By definition, prominent people are measured by what they do in public. And David Putnam, the Keene industrialist, philanthropist and community energizer who died March 1, earned his prominence. The city, the region and the state are clearly the better for the many organizations and projects he started and supported, and for Markem Corp., the successful manufacturing company that he multiplied in size. And Putnam’s impact was also felt off the public stage, where he quietly provided advice, support and inspiration.

Lew Feldstein is among the beneficiaries. Thirty years ago he was the young head of the almost self-consciously alternative Antioch New England Graduate School, which had recently moved into Keene, and one day he received an invitation to have dinner with Putnam, a man he knew absolutely nothing about. Feldstein and his wife showed up at the Putnam house on Court Street where, as the coffee arrived after an uneventful dinner, he was asked politely, “Tell me a little about Antioch.” The interest was not superficial; Putnam had read up on Antioch, and for 2 hours he grilled Feldstein on the school’s philosophy, methods and ambitions. At the end of the evening, Feldstein said, “He took me by the elbow and said, in effect, ‘You did well. I think you’re going to be good for the community, and if there’s any way I can be helpful, let me know.’ ”

Over the years, Putnam made good on that offer. And later, when Feldstein was beginning to think about greater opportunities outside the state, Putnam arranged to have him named head of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the innovative charity he still leads.

Alan Rumrill, the executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, tells another story of Putnam’s work behind the scenes. About 20 years ago, at a time when most 70 year-olds were terrified by technology, Putnam personally helped install the organization’s first computer system. “He spent many hours sitting in a cold room by himself, to make sure that the society was modern as well as historical,” Rumrill said.

Charleton MacVeagh, who saw Putnam close-up through numerous nonprofit organizations, recalled other behind-the-scenes experiences. “He had an enormous ability to wrinkle energy out of people who thought they were retiring to this area,” he said.

That ability was grounded in a genuine interest in people, as well as faith in them. Joseph Baute, who for a spell served as the only non-family member atop Markem Corp., recalled how in the late 1950s Putnam considered doing away with worker time cards and time clocks. “I thought he was out of his mind,” recalled Baute. But, after an inspection trip to a Massachusetts company that had already taken the leap, Putnam put Markem’s then-150 workers on the honor system. “I believe in the people here,” Putnam explained. “We’re going to treat them well, and they’re going to treat us well.”

There’s nothing showy about any of this — the dinner with the graduate school leader, the installation of a computer system, the enlistment of volunteers and the elimination of time cards in a factory setting, but such quiet initiatives are as important as the public ones.

As Walter Peterson, former New Hampshire governor and former head of Franklin Pierce College, put it, “One’s immortality is what you transmit to future generations.” He was referring to the fact that Putnam’s children have followed his lead in the area of societal responsibility — a responsibility expressed through public activities, yes, but also in personal involvement and genuine interest off the stage.