Donnell Dawson, 1961-2017.
Donnell Dawson, 1961-2017.

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If Capitol Hill has been feeling ever so slightly less familiar for the past few weeks, it may be on account of the death of Donnell Dawson at the end of March. As the neighborhood changes, swelling with new arrivals and unfamiliar feelings, you look to the ever-decreasing handful of certainties, familiar faces, points of reference, to orient yourself and keep from feeling as though the city you knew is gone forever. Donnell was one of those fixtures, an eternal nodding acquaintance and source of goodwill (but don't fuck around) to hundreds, possibly thousands, of people whose IDs he'd checked in his years of overseeing security for clubs and bars—most recently the Comet Tavern, where a memorial for him will be held this weekend, on Sunday May 7 at 4pm. (One of the great Seattle rites of passage was the day that Donnell knew you by sight and didn't need to see your license to let you in.) The full obituary below, provided by Dawson's good friends Diana Lightner and Jonna McCurry, gives a fuller picture of what it was to know him well. We should all have been so lucky.

Donnell Dawson, aka “Big D” or just “D,” was born in Seattle on December 27th, 1961. His family moved to Rogers, Texas when he was a kid, but he visited his people in Seattle many times over the years and finally made the move here in 1991. This is when most of us met him, as he sat on the stool outside The Comet Tavern, checking IDs and making fast friends with the regulars—people he fondly referred to as “Cometeers.”

When Moe's Mo'Roc'N Café opened up across the street in 1994, D was hired as head of security. He assembled a team of good-natured, able-bodied men and women he dubbed The Moetivators. Under Donnell’s leadership, everyone who was lucky enough to be at Moe had a mind-blowing time and stayed safe. Always safe. But his involvement in that brief-but-glorious era wasn’t limited to security. His idea for a good old-fashioned dance night, featuring R&B, Funk, and Hip-Hop, made Moe Funk the biggest money-making night at Moe. Every Monday, DJ Riz spun, and Seattle shook its collective ass with the likes of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. He made the sleepy corner of 10th & Pike a huge, city-wide party on a night when many clubs don’t even open their doors.

After Moe went dark in 1997, D took his band of Moetivators and rebranded them “Keepers” when he started his own security company, My Brother’s Keeper. There was a time when every venue in this town had a Keeper at the door.

And every one of those Keepers had the best mentor they could imagine, because D was much more than his accomplishments; he was a beautiful soul. To distill who he was, and what he meant to so many people, is semi-impossible. To describe the deep, rich sound of his laugh, or the facial expressions that could put the fear of god into an actual god, melt your heart, or make you laugh until it hurt? Those can’t truly be put into words.

D was the no-nonsense guy who wasn’t having your shit, but made sure you got home safely. He was the unreasonable crazy person who would raise up out of a joint if they dared to put peas and carrots in their fried rice. And he was the smart, thoughtful, caring man who always, always had your back. He was the most loyal friend a person could ask for, and if there was one word we saw over and over as hundreds of people posted their grief on Facebook, it was “protector.”

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We lost him too soon, on March 24th, 2017, when he passed peacefully away in his sleep. He leaves a family spread from here to Texas who love and miss him more than can be described, including three kids (Tiffany, Samantha, and Dawson), 10 grandchildren (!!!!), and all of us here in Seattle who hold him in our hearts as our brother.

Services for the family took place In Rogers, TX in April. A celebration of Donnell for his Seattle family will be held at The Comet Tavern this Sunday, May 7th, beginning at 4pm.