Celebrating Don Mahoney

Donald Mahoney
AWAI Co-Founder

January 13, 1950 – May 5, 2015

Please help us celebrate the life of our friend and colleague, Don Mahoney. Don was the driving force behind the creation of AWAI. When he saw a need for writers – and the incredible lifestyle copywriting afforded him and others he knew – he set out to create a course that would teach it.

“If I can do it, anyone can,” he’s famous for telling aspiring writers. And they listened …

Thanks to Don’s vision and involvement in the company the past 18 years, AWAI has helped thousands of people fulfill their dream of living “the writer’s life.”

There was no one more excited about copywriting … about teaching copywriting … about seeing new writers succeed … than Don.

He was a true friend and mentor to so many of us and he will be deeply and profoundly missed.

Don led a full and incredible life … with the added blessing of having helped and inspired so many to achieve their dreams.

Here are some glimpses of Don from those who loved him … worked with him … and are living better lives today because of him. If you have a story you’d like to share, please scroll to the bottom to add. – Katie Yeakle

Mark Ford:
Don and I were born in the same year, 1950, on the same street, Moffett Street, in the same row house in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Our family, which at the time included my parents, my sister Denise, and my brother Andrew, lived upstairs. Don, his parents, and his sister Marnie lived on the first floor.

For the first five years of our lives, we were pretty much inseparable. We played the same games, had the same friends, and were tormented by the same neighborhood bullies. At the end of 1955, our family moved to Rockville Centre on Long Island and Don’s family moved to another part of the city. After that, Don and I saw one another less often, but we remained good friends. I would visit him in the city or he would come out to the island. Sometimes our families would vacation together.

The world Don inhabited in the city was very different from the suburban neighborhood I lived in. Don’s friends were African American and Puerto Rican kids whose parents were shop owners or nurses or government workers. My friends were Irish American and Italian American kids whose parents were teachers or pilots or engineers.

When Don was visiting me, we entertained ourselves by fishing at the local reservoir, sneaking into the local movie theater, or hitchhiking to Long Beach, where we spent long days bodysurfing. When I was visiting Don in the city, we amused ourselves by hanging out in parks, smoking pot, “goofing” on one another, and getting into sometimes violent but never lethal confrontations with other groups of boys.

Because we were best friends, we were each accepted into the other’s social group. For me, spending evenings in city parks with working-class Black and Hispanic kids was a thoroughly enjoyable chance to live in a different, slightly more dangerous world. I can’t say for sure what Don took from his time in the suburbs with my friends, but I know he enjoyed being part of our group.

Don came from a highly intelligent family and he had, back then, an enormous vocabulary that impressed and sometimes intimidated me. He read more than I did and had opinions about subjects I knew nothing of. He was also way ahead of me when it came to sex. He knew terms for activities I had back then not even imagined.

If Don was more knowledgeable, I was more ambitious in some ways. I was always building things (wooden forts and clubhouses and model train-scapes) and starting things (The He-Man, Women Hater’s Club, The Junior Police Club, etc.) and Don was always as proud of them and me as I was of his accomplishments.

Occasionally my projects got us into trouble with my parents. He took his punishment in equal doses, almost happily, although he could have gotten lighter sentences by explaining that these were always my half-baked schemes.

In retrospect I can see that I was, even at that age, a complicated individual, not always easy to like. But Don seemed to like me exactly as I was. As far as he was concerned, I didn’t need to change a thing. That willingness to take you as you came was one of Don’s finest qualities. I believe anyone one that knew Don knows exactly what I mean.

We had, during those important early teenage years, countless convivial conversations, sitting on subways or in the backseat of my father’s station wagon or beside the railroad track across the street from my house or on his stoop on summer evenings long into the night. We talked about all of the topics you might expect early teenagers to speak about, but also some heady conversations about race and religion and even about love. We laughed frequently and shared everything easily and freely. I sometimes think we had the sort of connection that one attributes to twins.

After high school, we lost touch. I got busy with college and Don moved out to California. And our lives went on. I went to graduate school and then joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Africa, where I got married and then came back and had a family and a career. I thought about Don from time to time, wondered what had become of him and wished him well, but never reached out to him, even though our sisters were still in touch.

In 1994, Denise told me that Don had moved from California to New England, where he was working as a carpenter. I had the impulse to get in touch with him again and did. Despite the hiatus of more than 25 years, we had an easy, gratifying conversation about what we were each doing at the time.

On an impulse, I invited him to join me on a trip I was taking to Key West with my father and my aunt, both of whom he knew from the old days. He agreed and sometime later, we were together again with ample time to talk and catch up on our lost years.

The trip was a little bit of a disaster waiting to happen. My father was a confirmed Democrat and my Aunt Rosie, a hard-core Republican. In other situations, this might have been good fodder for lively conversation, but my mother’s sister had “issues” with my father’s relationship with my mom. On top of that, I had my own “issues” about my upbringing that I seemed to want to bring up. When we were walking the streets or touring Hemingway’s house, everything was civil, but meals were sometimes about as tense and/or awkward as family meals can be. Were it not for Don’s amazing diplomatic skills, which were put to full use at every meal, I don’t know what would have come of the weekend. In between quelling arguments, Don and I found plenty of time for more pleasant conversations, including stories of the old days and catching up on lost time.

I told Don the story of my career, how I had gone to Africa and come back and got into business and had success. I told him about my family, bringing him up-to-date on all that had transpired since high school. He reciprocated, filling me in on his trip to California and the life he created there. Like me, he had an interest in martial arts and became a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He also had a dramatic business life that included all sorts of exciting adventures and questionable characters.

Despite the elapsed time and how different our lives were now, there was nothing but goodwill and appreciation in these conversations. I felt it for him and I could see that he felt it for me. I was very happy we were back together again. It was good to catch up.

After the trip, Don went back to New England, where he was working as a carpenter, and I went back to Baltimore, where I was consulting for Agora Publishing.

Several weeks later, I got a note from Don, thanking me for the trip. It was a smart, funny letter full of particular recollections of our trip I had already forgotten. In this letter was a hint of what was going to become one of Don’s many skills as a copywriter. He had an affinity for detail that made his writing compelling and lively.

It so happened that at this time, Bill Bonner, Agora’s Founder, and I were starting a training program for people interested in becoming copywriters. The other candidates were young people out of college. But seeing what I saw in Don’s letter, I had another impulse: to invite him to join the group. I did so and once again he agreed.

He drove down to Baltimore and moved into the two-bedroom apartment I was renting on the harbor. For the next six months, we spent our days working, and in the evenings I would edit his copy assignments, as we were determined he should master this new skill, which could bring him a better working lifestyle and a higher income.

He progressed slowly at first and then more quickly. Then one day, he told me he had decided it was time for him to become a full-time, freelance copywriter. He was going to leave the security of his job with Agora and find work on a piecemeal basis. He wanted the freedom to move around, he said.

I didn’t feel he was quite ready to leave. I felt he was still six months away from having the skill level he needed to successfully compete as a freelancer. I never told him so in so many words, but I beat around the bushes. He understood my worries, but he didn’t feel them himself. He assured me he would be fine. And then he left.

It never occurred to me that he might have been fed up with my “help.” I had, at that time, a very heavy hand when it came to critiquing copy and Don, as my oldest and still in some ways closest friend, got the full weight of it. Looking back at his move, I see it as a very polite way of saying, “Enough, already! I’d rather go out there and fail then to spend another evening looking at your red ink!”

Happily for both of us, Don proved me wrong. He went on to write successful sales letters for almost every Agora division and a dozen other direct-marketing companies and was soon earning more than a quarter million dollars a year.

Since Don was working for Agora businesses, we were often involved in the same projects. We kept our friendship alive during those business meetings by interrupting the business conversations with personal matters. Neither of us seemed to care that we were taking up other people’s valuable time. Our personal history always seemed more important than whatever sales effort was on the table.

In 1996, I suggested to Don that he create his own business. It wasn’t enough to have a good income, I told him. You need equity, too. In no time at all, he had the beginnings of an idea that was to become AWAI, a business that would teach other people the art of copywriting, using the same ideas and techniques Bill and I had used to teach Don and his peers.

Don was instrumental in developing the products and programs of AWAI, designing and writing the courses and also in writing the marketing packages that eventually brought AWAI to prominence as the number one place to learn copywriting in America.

During the early years of AWAI’s development, Don and I saw one another regularly, not only to work on Agora and AWAI projects together, but also socially since he was, at that time, living in Delray Beach. Sometime later, he moved away, up north or down to Miami, but we still saw one another every month or so, and always spent time together at the AWAI annual Bootcamp in October.

At those events, there was always a sweet and sentimental connection between us and also the other Founders of AWAI. Against all odds, we had made this copywriting training school a successful and sustainable business. It was done without argument or disagreement. It was done in good humor. There was never a meeting conducted that did not include stories of Don and I in the old days.

Over the past 10 years or so, Don and I were involved in several other businesses together, as investors and consultants and even as partners. We worked well and easily together on all of them, but we were always both most proud of AWAI. Don was not only one of its Founders, but he was in many ways the heart of it. Notwithstanding all the ambitious plans to build a big and successful business, Don was always ready to remind us that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. He did that not by preaching, of course, but by body language and facial gestures and the occasional sarcastic, but still sweet somehow, remark.

It was with AWAI, I think, that Don felt most comfortable as a leader. He was a favorite teacher of many of AWAI’s students and a steady coach to many of its more promising graduates.

More recently, Don began working with a close friend of mine whose business is in the same building. Thus we had many opportunities to see one another, although most of these conversations were now very short since he was usually on his way up the back staircase and I was walking over to exercise in the gym below. I can’t remember a single thing we talked about. Not much, I’m sure. But it was always unstrained and honest and warm.

Looking back on our friendship now, I have two feelings. On the one hand, I feel a bit sad that we allowed our friendship to drift along at one level without going deeper for so many years. On the other hand, the core of our friendship ― the trust and acceptance and goodwill ― was always rock solid. So maybe that was the reason we never felt the need to “deepen” our friendship. Maybe we knew it was good just as it was.

Still, I do wish we had found more time for one another. I wish we could have taken more trips to Key West. I wish we could have told one another more stories. I wish that when he lived a block away from me, we could have spent more time just kicking back and having silly conversations while watching the sun set.

But we have to be happy with what we have. And what I have is a sweet and comfortable feeling of closeness that began when we were toddlers and ― despite the one long hiatus and many shorter ones ― comforts me when I think about him, which is often.

Paul Hollingshead:
Don was the first person to introduce me to the world of copywriting.

I had answered an ad in a local paper, called the number and it was Don on the other end, looking for writers. He told me to come by.

Anyone who knows Don knows that it only would take a minute of meeting him to feel like you’ve known him forever.

I knew nothing about this business going in. That didn’t matter to Don. We talked for over an hour … about writing … about the industry … about the path Don took … about my experience (or lack of it).

I don’t remember a lot of what we talked about those nearly 20 years ago. But I do remember what he said to me at the end of it:

“I really don’t know what it takes to be successful in this business, but you seem like a smart guy –why not give it a try?”

Now, that may not sound inspiring to you, seeing it on the written page. But I left that meeting feeling 100% completely and absolutely certain that I had finally found my calling – and that copywriting would change my life forever.

That was Don’s power, his gift.

So it’s no surprise to me the number of notes we saw from AWAI members within hours of news of his passing that talked about his magnificent ability to encourage … inspire … teach …

And make anyone feel like they just met a new best friend.

When I got the job, Don and I shared an office together. And even though we spent way too much time watching the Boca women come and go from the nail salon outside our window, Don taught me more about copywriting than he’ll ever know.

It was also in that Boca Raton office those early days when Don had the “idea” that has changed literally thousands of lives for the better since (including mine).

The idea was to make a “guide” that would teach people how to write a sales letter. Because as Don famously said: “If a broken down cabinet maker from upstate New York can learn it – anyone can.”

That “guide” would ultimately become AWAI’s flagship “Six Figure” program. And from that grew a business that would introduce thousands of aspiring writers to our little-known-but-lucrative-world of copywriting.

It’s only fitting that AWAI would become one of Don’s legacies. No one was happier to see someone succeed – and then brag about his part in it – than our good friend and partner Don Mahoney.

But perhaps his greatest gift is the one that will stay with anyone who met him – memory of the kind, easy and gentle man who had an amazing knack for inspiring without really trying.

No one will ever know how many lives that wonderful and rare quality changed for the better.

John Forde:
The Instructive Life & Times of
“Big Daddy Tortuga”

I want to tell you the instructive tale of a writer. He’s a longtime pal of mine. For reasons I’ll explain, we’ll call him “Big Daddy Tortuga.”

When I first met Big D., I had no idea whether or not he could write sales copy. Frankly, I wasn’t sure yet I could make a career out of it either.

I was in my 20s and just starting out.

But Big D., his back story stretched back well over 40 years. Maybe 50, I don’t remember.

And it covered some pretty unique territory. Some of it wild, possibly illegal, some of it just recent – he came to us as a cabinetmaker. (And a good one. I saw pictures.)

But he was looking for a change.

And therein, the first lesson you could take from the pages of Big D. – it’s never too late to start over.

You just need the guts to make the leap. And the tenacity to make sure it takes hold.

That’s easily the second lesson.

Big D. and I were part of a small group of writers, back in the day. A little like the Algonquin roundtable. Only, instead of martinis, we brown-bag lunched it and haggled over direct mail copy.

There were five or six of us in all, depending on the day of the week. Misfits in training, really, trying to find a style and the chops for sales writing.

For Big D., that meant – like I said – tenacity.

He was neither fast nor slow as a writer, at least at the start. What he was, was relentless.

Nobody could put his head down and work his way through an idea, start to finish, better than Big D.

Every nugget of proof, he didn’t just grab. He clung to it, polished it, and either kept or tossed it before moving on to the next, until it was finished.

At the same steady, even-handed pace. It didn’t take long before he’d turned out one blockbuster promo after another. And his fortunes made leaps, in kind.

A few years in, he and I and some of the other writers took a road trip. A friend and mentor had graciously – and maybe without asking his wife – invited us all down to work out of his house in Florida.

We got a little work done, in fact probably less than we should have, and then our friend – Big D’s friend from childhood in New York, first, actually – loaned us his car.

We drove to Key West.

On the way, while the others slept, Big D. and I talked about music from the ‘60s. He told me about his life, some wild events and screw-ups from his own past, his misadventures in marriage, and so on.

That’s where the name came from. We somehow got into imagining ourselves as a band of bad musicians or something. He dubbed me “‘Toof,” as in someone who might have only one “toof” left in his head. I don’t remember the other names. But we wound up calling him, “Big Daddy Tortuga.”

And there’s the third lesson.

When you’re tired and driving, pull over. Also, and I won’t get into the details of the stories he told, but suffice to say, what Big D. shared from his backstory pretty much proved to me that you can bounce back from almost anything.

A few more years on, Big D. was living in Florida. He’d gone freelance and the parlayed what he knew into running a vitamin business, among other things.

An old email he sent me, asking if I wanted to write copy for his products said, “we’re doing pretty well … about two million, last quarter.”

Well done, Big D.

And a fourth lesson – once you master selling and persuasion, you open a lot of doors, even beyond the ones made obvious here, for copywriters.

Living down there – and me living way over here, on the other side of the Atlantic – I saw Big D. less in those later years. He was remarried, too, and spending some time in, of all places, Honduras.

“People say it’s not safe,” he told me once, “but I don’t know … the car broke down the other day and I walked home. Nothing happened.”

But did get to see Big D. at least once a year, at the annual American Writers & Artists bootcamps.

I’ve gone every year as a speaker. Big D. was dropping in as one of the founders and owners. As such, he’s helped launch hundreds – maybe thousands? – of copywriting careers.

Most years, we’d run into each other first in the lobby that hosts the event. Big D. was a master of what you could call the “50-foot Smile.” Whenever he spotted a friend, he’d start beaming from a good 50 feet away. “Toof!” he’d shout to me, still about 25 feet off. A good way to make anybody feel welcome and open. And maybe a great final lesson.

Yesterday, I got word that Big D. – master copywriter and good friend to many, but better known to most as Don Mahoney – passed away.

A bad heart, somebody told me.

But I think I can speak for a lot of us, we didn’t see it that way. RIP Don – Big D. We’re lucky to have known ye, while we had the chance.

Clayton Makepeace:
Good night, my friend …

For me, Don Mahoney was one of those special surprises that life gives you if you endure long enough to receive them.

Don and I moved in similar, but different circles for most of our careers, so sadly, we didn’t meet until a few years ago.

For me, it was love at first sight.

When we first shook hands, I knew nothing at all about Don, his many accomplishments or the heart he had for helping young writers.

I simply saw before me a kindred spirit; a guy who loved life and people (and motorcycles) and who, like me, was probably only about 90% “normal.”

But it was that “other” 10% that I loved most about Don.

Don saw the world through his own unique set of spectacles; and they gave him perspectives and insights that are plainly unavailable to the rest of us.

I loved watching Don react. It could be a reaction to anything: A joke, an opinion, an off-hand comment, a piece of copy. I never had any idea what his reaction would be; I only knew it would be fresh, intriguing, often hilarious and always brilliant.

I do have two great regrets, though …

First, although we often spoke of riding together, I never had the opportunity to spend time with Don away from work. It would have been a riot. We might have even gotten arrested.

And second, I never told Don how much I respected him, the degree to which I valued our friendship or how much I hoped we would have time to nurture it.

Now, sadly, in this life at least, there is no more time.

Don, the news of your passing struck me like a bolt of lightning. I was instantly overcome by feelings of loss, regret and gratitude for the privilege of knowing you.

Good night, my friend, you are sorely missed.

Jen Stevens:
To me, Don seemed unendingly enthusiastic and reliably wry.

You could count on him to say something funny – not infrequently at your own expense, mind you. But it was always good-natured – and rooted in truth. He was great to have in a copy critique because he was never mean-spirited.

It’s that voice that sticks with me, though. That slow, nasal, New York whine, delivered with the head tilted slightly back. I come from Brooklyn stock, so maybe it just always reminded me of my people … I don’t know.

But there was something about that voice—you could hear it from around the corner or from a flight of stairs up. I can still hear it. And it always made me smile. By the time you finally rounded the bend or made it past the landing … there would be this sense of anticipation built in. And there he’d be. I’d always get a big hug … and the distinct sense he’d been waiting for me to show up.

Of course, he hadn’t been waiting at all. The point is: He made you feel like he had been.

I’ll miss that. Don, RIP.

Will Newman:
Remembering Don …

I first met Don Mahoney back around 1997 shortly after I’d finished the Accelerated Program. AWAI was a new group, and I was a new copywriter. I knew Don’s name as one of the founders of AWAI. To me, he sat in the pantheon of great copywriters I wanted to emulate but never expected to get to know.

I got to know Don when he mentored me on an assignment I had from a group that matched new copywriters with clients and a mentor. Don coached me through the assignment, allowing me to write and make mistakes. He’d help me see where my copy succeeded and where it fell short. He explained key ideas and then suggested a radical approach to the assignment. “You almost never want to give the price of the product at the start of the copy,” he explained (a lesson that’s stuck with me many years). “But I think this one will benefit from our stating the price and the huge savings right in the headline.”

A radical approach. One that I never would have thought to use. How did the copy work? The client had to rent a building next to his office to add additional personnel to take orders!

But Don’s suggestion wasn’t the only thing about that mentoring that stays with me all these years later. Several years ago, Don and I did a Bootcamp presentation together. In the course of that presentation, Don mentioned the copy we “collaborated on.” His words gave me far greater status than I deserved, acknowledging me as an equal when I’d only been his student. But he remembered our work together and used it as an example of how it’s necessary sometimes to vary from the expected to achieve success.

Don was an example of someone who varied from the expected … someone who was warm, giving, friendly, funny, and concerned about those with whom he came in contact.

Thank you, Don, for the huge impact you had on my career and on my life.

Starr Daubenmire:
I want to share with you a tribute to a very special man, Donald Mahoney, who was my first mentor when I was trying to learn the business of copywriting. …

Unfortunately for us all, Don passed away last month quite unexpectedly. His generous and loving heart failed him and I am so sorry that most of you will never get to know the fun, beautiful man he was.

Many of you are trying to get a copywriting business going, either full-time or on the side. I applaud you for doing that because it is a very rewarding career that lets you have the freedom you've always dreamed of. But the fact is, no one does it alone.

That's why groups like Copywriter Cafe and AWAI are invaluable. They can take beginners and guide them on the path to success. I started with AWAI and specifically, Don Mahoney. And at first I didn't even know it …

Don had put an anonymous ad in the daily AWAI email to which I responded. The funny thing is, I almost DIDN'T respond because I didn't think I was "ready." But something made me bite the bullet and do it.

Out of the many responses Don got, he chose to contact me for a follow up. He offered me a spec assignment that I did even though I had no idea what I was doing. And he knew that. But he saw something in me and being the generous man that he was (and a pretty slick business guy – hey, I was cheap!) – he took me on.

He took me under his wing. He paid me. He critiqued me. He got me more jobs. He taught me to be a bad-ass copywriter. Without ever being judgmental or unkind. I always called him "boss-man." And when I would send him an email thank you, he would reply with the lyrics of some 60's rock song – or by saying … "who's your daddy?"

When offering me more work he would say … "is you in or is you ain't?"

Oh how I loved that man! And you can be sure he did this with countless numbers of people over the many years of his career.

He didn't have to do that. He had his own career and money in the bank. Why would he care about me? But he did. And that made him SPECIAL. Because it wasn't just me. I was merely one of those dumb, naive people who said "I just want to write!" and he responded. He taught people how to write to make money … to make a living.

Yes, Don Mahoney saved my life. I was in my late 50s … downsized from a cruel, faceless corporation that didn't give a fig for the time I had served them. They kicked me to the curb. And Don Mahoney picked me up. He didn't even know me, but he picked me up.

And when I finally met him in person he ran up, almost knocked me over and kissed me on both cheeks. And then he put his arm around my shoulder, introduced me to all the "greats" (OMG – I was shaking hands with Mark Ford and Robert Bly and Clayton Makepeace!) that we all aspire to be like, and Don just laughed with his funny high voice like it was just part of a normal day.

I think I loved him more than the idiot I was once married to for over 20 years. Don actually provided for me. He taught me to provide for myself. And he did it for many folks without any hope of reward. That's just the kind of guy he was.

So I regret that none of you new people will ever get to know him. Please read his tributes … and be inspired. The writer's life is a wonderful one. And Don Mahoney lived it well. Just remember, if you find success … pay it forward. Just like Don did …

Nina Camp:
I met Don about 20 years ago in Baltimore, at Agora Publishing, when I was a writer-student in their in-house training program.

I picture Don now as a kind, easy-going, gentle guy – walking down the block in Mount Vernon, chiming in at copy meetings, hanging out at the pool table behind one of the conference rooms – but back then I didn’t engage much with him. The truth is, I wasn't quite clear-headed or open enough then to see all the strength in his kindness, or to understand how rare and rich his spirit was.

It was years later, when I was freelancing and living in New York, that Don and I struck up a professional and personal relationship, mostly via e-mail and phone, when I worked for his health supplement companies. I found him to be a supportive client and a great listener. I remember the gentle sing-song tones in his voice when he spoke, and it’s hard to imagine any soul being more accepting and kind. He took a personal interest in my happiness, and he also occasionally shared his hopes and insecurities with me. I realize now what a gift our friendship was.

Don also played a key role in my transition from the stone age of print mailing to the high speed age of digital copywriting. After I’d gotten quite lazy, for years, working for clients who were far behind in the digital/internet curve and exclusively mailing print pieces, it was Don who ushered me into the modern age, hiring me back and showing me how to translate print to digital, with all the bells and whistles.

When I look back on our relationship now, and I see it in the context of the other letters to Don I’ve read on this site, it’s clear to me that he played very much the same role with me that he played with so many other writers and friends: Support support support. Kindness. And practical smarts.

I also see clearly now that the guy I knew only vaguely back in Baltimore all those years ago was a uniquely open-hearted man – friendly, perceptive, uplifting, funny and deeply understanding.

I’ll miss him with all my heart, which is where he landed, directly and permanently, once I let him in.

Don was a wonderful teacher, friend, and mentor. I not only learned a lot from him about copywriting and business, but he was such a great supporter … he always pushed me to be better … always positive, and always encouraging. It's been incredible hearing the stories of all the people who Don helped over the years. I knew he was an incredible mentor and that he was extremely generous with his knowledge and time, but I had no idea just how many people he helped. And to what extent. Don was truly one of a kind and could never be replaced. I'm grateful his legacy will live on.Rebecca Matter

Don was kind and generous. He saved my life when I was unemployed and needed to start over with a new career. This man made it possible for me to make a living. If ever someone "taught a man to fish" it was Don. He will be sorely missed. Condolences to both Don's family and the AWAI family that treasured him.Starr Daubenmire

Don was the first person to tell me that I had the talent to be a copywriter. He gave me my first big break, and I enjoyed working with him over the years. He made such a difference in so many lives. He'll be sorely missed.Heather Wells Robson

Don mentored me on my first direct mail letter. Besides being a pleasure to work with, his wisdom and guidance was golden. He will be sorely missed.John Torre

Don was one of our first "students" when we tried to show people how to write effective sales copy in a systematic way. He proved that it was something that could be taught and learned, not some kind of natural talent. Then he went on to be a great teacher himself. We'll miss him greatly.Bill Bonner

Most people don’t know it, but Don and I worked on projects together now and then, where I was the copywriter and he the copy chief. I loved working with him on two levels. One, he was brilliant at coming up with big ideas and concepts for promotions. Two, he was just about the nicest guy I ever worked with. We also had some interesting personal chats over the last year about getting older and what would be the next stage for both of us. It saddens me that he will now never enjoy that next phase of his life.Bob Bly

I'm so fortunate to have known him, and he had a profound impact on so many lives. He will be missed, and fondly remembered.Li Vasquez-Noone

The copywriting community lost a very good man.Mary Rose Maguire

What a contribution Don has made to the lives of AWAI students.Trey Anderson

Don was always so interesting to talk to and an encourager to many new copywriters.Charlotte Hicks Crockett

One of the greats has left us.Keith Sims

I owe a lot to Don and everyone else who put together AWAI's copywriting courses.Suresh Nair

Don's work with AWAI inspired me and countless others to live full and independent lives through effective communication. I am grateful for him.Janice Takashima

Don helped give others the dream life … a lovely legacy.Mary Guinane McNamara

Don will certainly be missed by all that knew him. May we find peace in knowing that his legacy will live on in the many lives he's helped to fulfill the dream of living the writer's life.Jaclyn Mehler

The copywriting world has lost a master copywriter, marketer, teacher and a kindhearted soul. This man touched a lot of lives.Ed Gandia

Don was one of the first people from AWAI that I met in person, and just his encouragement and warmth gave me the confidence to keep going with freelancing.Janice Sakata-Schultze

Don treated others with respect and kindness. I'm grateful our paths crossed and I got to know him.Steve Chayt

Don was such a kind and generous man.Holly Reisem Hanna

Don was a force of change in so many lives. A life well and richly lived.Christina Allsop

I was so honored to have lunch with Don at bootcamp. His inspiration and insights will be greatly missed.Karen Dobos

So many of us writers have had Don as a mentor. He was always so kind, giving, and understanding … a pleasure to talk to.Jerry Bures

Truly, a great man. I was happy to have met him and to have been inspired by him.Robbin Crandall

Sending kind thoughts and condolences to Don's family, friends and AWAI team. What a warm and giving spirit. He will be missed.Elizabeth Blessing

I send out my condolences to Don's family and friends as well. We writers and (writers to be) benefited so much from the wealth of resources AWAI has to offer. We are grateful for Don's vision and service.Roman Akafate

I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet him at Bootcamp a few years ago – he was so encouraging and enthusiastic about all the opportunities for copywriters.Karen Kanakanui

I learned so much from Don courtesy of his training at AWAI. My sympathy and prayers go out to his family.Jeremy Tarrier

Don was a great mentor. And though I didn't work with him directly, I did benefit from his teaching through the copywriting courses. Sending the AWAI team and Don's family much love and light.Christy Goldfeder Ingkavet

13 Responses to “Celebrating Don Mahoney | January 13, 1950 – May 5, 2015”

  1. I never got to meet Don in person. But we did chat on Facebook. His kind words of wisdom meant much.

    When the "broken down cabinet maker from New York" help found AWAI, he made it possible for this worn out electrician from Arkansas to dream again. To see the sunrise over the next hill once more.

    The premise was that anyone could learn to write copy. But the power was, and still is, that you help, not by tearing down, but by making both copy and copywriter stronger.

    Thank you, sir. Thank you.

    Steve Maurer

  2. I'm very saddened to hear about the passing of Don Mahoney. While I didn't get to know him personally, I did get to meet him briefly at the last Bootcamp. What an inspiration he was to us all. His writings will continue to inspire and guide us. My deepest regrets go out to all of his family, friends and the AWAI staff.

    Mark Eslin

  3. I'm sorry to learn of the loss of one of AWAI's founders. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet him. I have read some of his writing and teaching in the Accelerated Program. Conveying my prayers and sympathy to both his own family and to AWAI.


  4. I met Don last year at my first boot camp. He sat right down with me and talked to me...a newbie. I do B2B writing and online marketing primarily in technology and higher education, so even while he was telling me these weren't his areas of experience, he was offering suggestions on who I could connect with and ideas on how to advance. What a wonderful guy. Definitely one of the people I'd been looking forward to seeing again this year. He will be missed.

    Guest (Diane Sheldon-Ku)

  5. Don Mahoney was a visibly happy and very cheerful guy. I was glad I got to meet him at the 2002 AWAI Copywriting boot camp. He made a distinct impression upon me at first glance.

    One thing he told me (with a real big smile); "John, if I can do this... so can you! Don't give up!" He shook my hand with the most firm handshake I was ever given!

    His smile radiated sincerity and genuineness that goes beyond words. I knew (for a fact) that he WAS A FREE MAN.... and "following his destiny and finishing what he was destined to do" to which many never accomplish!

    He was real! (for those who understand)

    I'm now DOING IT... part-time!

    Thank you Don Mahoney!


  6. I never heard of Don Mahoney until now, with his passing! Don must have been extraordinary to elicit such loving response. I write only in tribute to a man whose big and generous heart - and big idea! - has touched me even though I never knew him.

    Lovely to hear about Don ~ Sorry I missed him

    Nicole T Bergstrom

  7. Well there is an old adage I love:"people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." And reading all the amazing comments definitely cements this adage. It's rare to find a man of Don's stature who is humbly driven to reach back to help others. I'm truly sorry I never got the chance to meet a rare soul, but I feel like I know him just the same and am honored to be part of his legacy. Thanks for sharing his inspirational story.

    Dawn McClendon

  8. Godspeed your spirit, Mr. Mahoney. I wish we had been able to meet. I've had the Accelerated program in my apt. for 7 years and just now I had decided to take the course seriously and to really study and work on becoming a successful copywriter. But the power is in the Now since it's all we've got. I will finish the course as a way of honoring his memory and his work.

    Guest (Clair)

  9. I'm glad I read this page. What came through to me was that this man expressed love in an outstanding way; that is why he made such a connection with people. I am sure that when he passed his heart did not fail; he just opened it to express in an even bigger way than can be done here on this plane.

    Guest (Eleanor Celentani)

  10. So grateful for the many contributions made by Don to the copywriting industry. I admired his writing style and tone, and have studied his work intensely. He will live on in my world because every time I start to write copy something he said or wrote comes to mind. Thank you so much Don!

    Jim Turner

  11. I came to this page while researching fundamentals of copywriting. And during my long-time search (I'm a Six-Figure graduate and current Masters student), I've been really happy to learn more about the people who founded AWAI and have been instrumental in the AWAI family.

    What great reading here on this page. It gave me a great introduction to a man that I really wish I had known. Yet, I know so much more about him now...and his heart and the things that truly mattered to him.

    The biggest thing that seemed to matter Don Mahoney was whether he was being a servant to his fellow brothers and sisters. And from these testimonies, he certainly accomplished this.

    Thank you, Don for the wonderful opportunity that you are giving me today.

    Steve C

  12. Thank you to AWAI for keeping this page alive.
    Every once in a while, now years later, I miss my dad and look into his legacy again.

    For anyone who stumbles upon this, thinking of becoming a copywriter...
    Donald Mahoney was an extraordinary, ordinary man. He succeeded because he rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
    If he could, you can too.

    Much love from the Mahoney clan.

    Guest (Casandra Mahoney)

  13. Today has been an AWAI day for me with webinars and then coming to visit AWAI's site. I joined AWAI just shortly before Don passed and as someone new to AWAI, it didn't sink in what I missed out on in not meeting Don or encountering him. I have to join in with Cassandra and say, "Thanks" for keeping these stories alive! It's been a well-spent afternoon getting to know Don Mahoney through the eyes of those who loved and worked with him! Sorry I missed out.

    Wanda F Sewell

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