Jan. 30, 1929 — Feb. 8, 2018
David Oldham Poindexter, a Methodist minister who championed the use of radio and television serial dramas to promote family planning, gender equity and protection of the environment, died peacefully Feb. 8 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, from the effects of a basilar stroke.
Poindexter, who also organized several nongovernmental organization forums at major United Nations conferences, was born in Hood River, Oregon, on Jan. 30, 1929, and graduated from Astoria High School in 1947.
After receiving a bachelor of arts degree at Willamette University in 1951, and both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology at Boston University (where he became friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), David served as pastor of Parkrose Heights Methodist Church in Portland for eight years. He then moved to New York City to work with the National Council of Churches for five years as director of utilization of the NCC’s Broadcasting and Film Commission, and then as director of promotion services.
At the request of his bishop, David became director of the communication center of the Population Institute from 1970 to 1985. At the Population Institute, and later as founder and president of Population Communications International (1985-1998), David championed the use of entertainment as a powerful way to change social norms, particularly focusing on gender equality and family planning.
Poindexter worked to bring about and develop long-running, entertaining shows and educational television programs in numerous countries, including Brazil, China, Kenya, Madagascar, Mexico, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, St. Lucia and Tanzania.
In the early 1970s, he collaborated with John D. Rockefeller III to hold a meeting of the three network CEOs — a meeting also attended by then U.N. ambassador George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Robert Packwood — to discuss treatment of gender, reproductive health and family planning issues in television.
He convinced the CEOs of the three major networks to host a large gathering in New York of key network entertainment producers and writers. Following that event, he organized annual awards ceremonies in collaboration with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to recognize the best entertainment shows addressing those issues.
One of the outgrowths of Poindexter’s outreach to Hollywood leaders was a long-standing relationship with Norman Lear and his head of drama, Virginia Carter. At Poindexter’s suggestion, the character Maude, in the series by the same name, had a mid-life abortion — six months before the Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. As Norman Lear later put it, “David got Maude pregnant.” Similarly, he suggested the vasectomy of Rob Reiner’s character, Michael, on “All in the Family.”
During his work in Hollywood, Poindexter worked closely with Mary Tyler Moore, who was a great supporter of his work, which helped to bring about the discussion of sexism in the workplace on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
In the mid-1970s, Poindexter began working in Mexico, where he discovered and promoted the work of Miguel Sabido, a well-known Mexican playwright and television producer who became a pioneer in entertainment-education. As vice president of Televisa, Sabido produced six telenovelas in the late 1970s and early 1980s, modeling family planning use for Mexican audiences.
During that time, Mexico experienced the most rapid decline in fertility rate of any developing country in the 20th century up until that time. These programs had similar effects when they were broadcast in several Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. Thomas Donnelly, then with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Mexico, wrote, “The Televisa family planning soap operas have made the single most powerful contribution to the Mexican population success story.”
Poindexter chaired several U.S. NGO planning committees for the U.N. population conferences around the world, starting one which became the largest NGO forum in U.N. history.
For over a decade, he was an officer of the Committee on Sustainable Development of the conference of NGOs in consultative status with the U.N.’s Economic and Social Division. He also served on the executive committee of the Conference of U.N. Representatives of the Council of Organizations of the U.N. Association-USA (UNA-USA).
He was an honorary fellow of the Population Reference Bureau, and received the Ninoy Aquino Human Rights Award, a distinguished alumni citation from Willamette University in 1982, the Eleanor Schnurr Award of the UNA-USA, and received a distinguished service award of the Population Institute.
He was an honorary life board member of the Council on International Non-Theatrical Events. In 2008, he won the Everett M. Rogers Award as founder and former president of Population Communications International.
Following retirement from Population Communications International in 1998, Poindexter served as honorary chairman of the Population Media Center, where he was instrumental in establishing and implementing social change serial dramas in 54 countries.
David is survived by his wife of 65 years, Marian Sayer Poindexter; his son, Jim; his sister-in-law, Audrey Poindexter; his nieces, Kathleen Teeple and Jan Van Dusen; his grand-nieces and nephews, Nick Lanzadoro, Rachel Van Dusen, Adrianna Perrault, Kristin Zedwick and Jake Savage, along with their families; and his great-grand-nieces and nephews.
After his brother passed in 1989, Uncle David unofficially stepped up as surrogate patriarch, taking over the grandfather role as a pillar of the family. He made it to every family reunion and event, organized annual holiday family gatherings at his home, and started traditions, came for holidays, and always greeted family and friends with warmth, hugs and kisses, and with a true interest in each of our lives.
He was our unofficial professional, political, progressiveness and cultural mentor. He would visit family, organize dinners and get-togethers with family around the country when he was in town for business, and of course, he would take us to the coolest, hippest spots in each of these cities including Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. And when not accompanied by him, would always give the best recommendations for cultural activities wherever we traveled.
David said many times that family was the most important thing in his life, and regularly reminded all of us how dearly he loved and cherished us. He took care of his wife, Marian, faithfully for over 30 years as her primary caretaker after her own stroke. He forever will be remembered for how gentle and wise he was, and for being a selfless being of light and action.
Poindexter’s life and work are captured in his autobiographical book, “Out of the Darkness of Centuries,” published in 2009.
A memorial service was held on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the First United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorial contributions may be made to Population Media Center, Suite 302, 30 Kimball Ave., South Burlington, VT 05403.