John Ham passed away a week ago. No relation to Jon Hamm. But there was a connection.
Jon Hamm, the actor, is best known for playing the character of Don Draper, a cigarette-smoking ad agency man in the 1960s, on Mad Men.
John Ham also was quite the character. He was a cigarette-smoking ad agency man in the 1960s. And the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, too.
I worked with John from 2000-2005. He was an illustrator, and a damn good one. He did a lot of the packaging artwork for the original line of Star Wars action figures and toys. He created the illustrations for a Cincinnati beer company’s souvenir six-packs of the Reds World Series Championship way back in 1976.
By the time I joined the agency where “Hammy” worked, he was 62 years old… the wise (and wisecracking) elder statesman of the creative team. He didn’t really need the money – he and several friends had broken away from a big agency to form their own small ad agency decades prior. They grew the business, and were eventually bought out by a big national firm. But John was a people person through and through. “Gregarious” is probably the best adjective. He genuinely enjoyed the camaraderie of a creative environment. Always smiling, always generous with his time. He was much older than the rest of the creative team, but it never really felt that way. He was one of us. And when he wasn’t pursuing his art at work, he was engaged in his other passion: playing tennis.
Toward the end of his career, John would often get tapped to create a “farewell” caricature. It was usually for a bigwig who was leaving P&G (our largest client by far). But occasionally he’d create them for co-workers. I was lucky enough to get the Hammy treatment when I left the agency.
When John retired in 2008, Keith Neltner, our mutual friend and co-worker, turned the tables and created a caricature of Hammy in that same style.
The Yoda in the illustration is fitting – not just because of John’s Star Wars experience, but also because he was a lovable, wise mentor to all of us.
I shouldn’t feel so bummed out about the passing of a guy with whom I haven’t worked in 15 years, especially someone who made it to 83 (despite the smoking habit) and lived a very fulfilling life. But that smile, man, it was incandescent. We’ll miss that light.
May the force be with you, Hammy.