Retired attorney pushed for The Railyard, SITE Santa Fe

January 15, 2019

Donald Meyer may have led the strenuous life, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the ever-present twinkle in his eye.

Meyer, a retired attorney and longtime Santa Fe resident whose decades of civic involvement, passion for the arts and social dynamism helped spur the development of The Railyard and SITE Santa Fe, died Jan. 8 at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center after a yearslong battle with dementia. He was 84.

Friends and loved ones described the community leader, who seemed to have had his hands in nearly every city arts initiative at one time or another, as a tenacious, passionate, engaging and forever-energetic man who used his vigor and intellect to make the world around him a better place.

“I lucked out so much,” said his wife, Barbara Meyer. “There’s so much to this man. I’m exhausted from my life with him.”

As vice president of the board of the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation from 1998 to 2017, Meyer helped negotiate and lobby for the Railyard’s master plan, a guiding design to which developers have stuck since 2002. He served on the boards of the Santa Fe Cancer Institute and SITE Santa Fe and as chairman of the Santa Fe Arts Commission.

“He brought so much wisdom to our board,” said Lleta Scoggins, the Railyard board’s treasurer. “… I appreciated the balance in Donald. We didn’t always agree totally, but he had this great ability to sit down and discuss through a situation. That brought us to a better place, when we took the time to hear each other.”

Barbara Meyer said she met her husband in the mid-1990s, shortly after she moved to Santa Fe from Miami. The two were introduced at a party, and although Barbara Meyer, then in her 50s, had no plans to remarry, she said she couldn’t shake her future husband.

“Everywhere I went, we ran into each other, whether it was a concert or the symphony or a play or whatever,” said Barbara Meyer, a jewelry designer. Each time, he asked her out. Eventually, she relented.

“The first night, me, who was never going to get married again … I thought to myself, I’m going to marry this man,” she said. “I’m in love with him after one dinner. It was a love story from then on out. We just had the most glorious life.”

It was a life, Barbara Meyer said, filled with travel, art, sports — especially tennis, a special passion they shared — and culture.

Donald Meyer was born in New York City in 1934, but his family relocated to New Orleans 12 years later. Meyer graduated from Tulane Law School and practiced real estate, banking and commercial law in New Orleans for more than 30 years, honing his skills as a litigator.

But his real passion during that era, longtime friend Timothy Slater said, was the pro bono work he did for the Crescent City’s musicians and artists.

“Down here, he was a definite boon to the city,” said Slater, an entrepreneur and former trader who still lives in New Orleans. “He was very, very gracious with his time. He was a good lawyer, and he spent a lot of time counseling artists … when they had financial troubles.”

Meyer also played a lead role in establishing the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, an arts training school for the city’s youths that counts singer Harry Connick, Jr., actor Anthony Mackie and jazz musicians Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis among its graduates.

Meyer was not an artist, but friends said he maintained a devotion to the arts throughout his life — a passion that brought him to Santa Fe in the late-1980s, Barbara Meyer said.

After two bouts of cancer several years ago, dementia started to take hold. In July, Barbara Meyer moved her husband to the Legacy at Santa Fe, a memory-care facility. There, she said, Donald Meyer quickly became “like the mayor.”

“He was the kindest, most gentle, loving human being,” Barbara Meyer said. “…I’ve never known anybody like him. I don’t understand it to this day how people were just drawn to him and loved him.”

Along with his wife, Meyer is survived by two sons, Andy Meyer of Burlington, Vt., and Chris Meyer of Ridgewood, N.J.; a stepson, Dan Rosenberg, of Miami; a stepdaughter, Lynn Abbott, of Miami; a sister-in-law, Harriett Levin Balkind, of New York City; a nephew; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial to honor Meyer’s life will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at Rivera Memorial Gardens, 417 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe. A celebration of life will follow at 3 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Meyer’s honor can be made to The Cancer Foundation of New Mexico.

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