From reliable sources, I’ve heard that Dan Matheson died last Sunday from a heart attack. Most people in the gaming industry know Dan from his decades as the warehouse manager of Black Hawk Hobby Distributors, located in northern Illinois, just south of my home here in Beloit. That’s where I met him.
Black Hawk was the first game distributor I ever visited, back when I was all of 16 years old, and I had a short-lived fanzine I wanted to flog. I drove out to the barn that used to serve as the company warehouse before a fire took it in 1988, and I met Cliff Wilson, the owner, who told me he couldn’t carry it. Even so, I learned a lot from both Cliff and Dan over the years.
Cliff passed on of a heart attack himself, back in 1997, crashing his car as he tried to drive himself to the hospital. They were both that kind of stubborn and tough, honest men who were always ready to point out when you’d done something wrong and shake your hand when you’d done right.
Dan retired in 2005, but I still saw him at conventions from time to time, and even pulled up next to him at a stop light here in town once or twice. Most of the time I knew him, he had a beard that would have made Gandalf jealous. I only ever saw him without it once, and he had it back almost full in by the time I saw him next, almost as if he’d always worn a false one and I’d just caught him without it once by mistake.
Dan served his country in Vietnam, and I understand he had some health issues related to Agent Orange. He never let any of that slow him down that I ever saw.
From friends in the know, I discovered that Dan actually was the first head of security for TSR back in the days when Gary Gygax still ran the company. I can only imagine he tackled that job as he did everything else, with a fully developed set of senses of honor, duty, and humor.
My condolences to Dan’s family, especially those closest to him: his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. He was a good man, and we were all blessed to know him.