An Ode to Doug Ernst (1954 – 2018)

By David Horobin
Teammate, friend and honorary family member

On December 11, longtime Western Region MDI member Doug Ernst died in his Napa home from complications from Lou Gehrig’s Disease with his family at his side. He leaves a legacy as a family leader who loved his community and his fellow man. A Napa Valley journalist and media consultant, Ernst is survived by his wife, Carolyn of Napa, four daughters and eight grandchildren. The below is a tribute to a great man who gave much, as seen through the eyes of one his teammates and close friends. David Horobin was present for the December 1 Living Tribute as well as the funeral services on December 21, both of which are detailed below.


A hush came over the dining room of the Vintners’ Golf Club dining room as a man maneuvered the joystick of his motorized wheelchair out into the center of the room.

As the guests parted to let him move more freely the entire room burst into applause and cheers that resounded in all our ears. It was the beginning of the celebration of the life of Doug Ernst, a wonderful, giving man who has been a part of our circle for five years and a force in the Napa Valley for decades.

Doug is leaving us sometime in the near future and we know not when. ALS has racked his body, which is physically not what it was as even a year ago. ALS will affect his mind soon enough and yet he retains that beautiful sarcastic smile which is a symbol of the man who has been there for us and given so much over these last few years.

This was a special gathering to Doug.

His popularity in the Napa Valley emanates from his political and social skills in carrying out his job as the Editor of the Napa Valley Register and subsidiary papers for so many years. He was able to walk the tightrope of political neutrality in a community he has loved for so many years. The Napa Valley is special to those of us who live here, and Doug is a special part of our lives because of that.

He is not just a member of my men’s team; he is a real and true friend. Our friendship is deep and meaningful and reaches the rare stratosphere of ruthless compassion balanced with friendship that is often difficult to achieve. We talk about “selling out” sometimes because of the friendships that develop on a team. For Doug, the truth always meant more than anything as he brought his investigative reporting skills into play on our team. It was almost like he felt the need to take on a context of having to report to a higher authority about his search for the truth. Nothing less than the unbridled truth was good enough as he felt accountable to it.

This was the celebration of a life very well lived.

His beautiful wife Carolyn let us know that “love at first sight” truly exists, that she walked up to him when he was playing the drums at an event, kissed him on the neck. They went home together, they woke up together … and have done so ever since.

Theirs is a story of true love. Four beautiful daughters later who have all married good men and have brought eight grandchildren into the world are there to support Doug in his last breaths of life. We are there as his team to support him, and the other 120 plus attendees are there for him as well. Beyond that, there is a valley full of people who love this man and, more importantly, respect him deeply. A potential client who is a political force in this valley said to me, only last night, “We certainly did not agree on a lot of things. He’d piss me off no end at times, but I love him and respect him.”

What more could a man ask for?

Carolyn showed her metal and braveness and delivered a beautiful speech about their lives together. His daughters each delivered from their differing perspectives through the tears and the laughter and the Kleenexes. Men friends from fourth grade delivered hilarious anecdotes and deep expressions of love for this man. I had the privilege of speaking to his involvement in MDI and the impact he has had on so many men in the last five years.

We always find out so much about a deceased friend or relative after they have passed, and we hear these eulogies, only wishing that the deceased could have heard what everyone had to say about them when they were alive. This was different. The appreciation and love expressed in the room was magnificent. This was truly all about Doug, and nobody that spoke held back. How brave do you have to be to face those who have impacted your life in so many ways, good, bad and indifferent, and leave this world knowing what that impact has been, assured that you are “leaving it a better place than you found it?”

This world and, in particular, the privileged people of the Napa Valley (privileged in knowing him), are better for having this man live here for so many years , whether they agreed with him, battled and fought him or simply read his skillful columns in the NV Register and the St. Helena Star. We are all the privileged recipients of Doug’s betterment of this world whether he intended it or not. My sons, who attended the event, are the inheritors of the better world Doug will leave behind.

What a honor and a privilege to have had him in my life over these years. What an honor to be considered one of the family. And what an honor to be there for the remaining time he has on the planet before he moves on. The legacy is not yet complete, but we are all privileged to be a part of it.

The legacy will grow as the book he has written about the courageous adventures of his father is Published. It’s a story of a man escaping from a concentration camp, traveling around the entire planet to join Patten’s army of freedom as he personally opened up the gates of Buchenwald to free his fellow internees. Doug has gained much inspiration from this story, which will be passed on to all who read and
understand it.

Doug cannot physically attend our men’s team meeting tomorrow night (December 4), but he will still be a strong presence in our thoughts and words. His attendance is waning, as is his body. Let’s celebrate the lives of those we love before we lose them.

Let them feel the impact they have had on those they leave behind.


The Napa Valley said a loving and appreciative “thanks and goodbye” to Doug Ernst today. As a man who has promoted this Valley through his journalism profession he must have felt rewarded looking down from his lofty perch on the proceedings at his funeral yesterday. His extraordinary ability to create strong and productive relationships was expressed in the perfect social cross-section of our beautiful community from Mayors and Supervisors, editors and fellow journalists to many of whom he was the boss, Kiwanis and Rotary members, Napa Emergency Women’s Service (local “battered women’s shelter” where he served on the board for 21 years), friends, family (wife, four daughters with respectives and eight grand-children that were his heart and soul, as well as innumerable friends and colleagues and, last but certainly not least, members of his men’s team.

I had the privilege of bringing Doug into the world of Men’s work. That was inclusive of but not limited to MDI. His reach extended far beyond mere men’s team. Doug never made it through the hierarchy of leadership in MDI and it often used to annoy me that he didn’t apply his talents in the way “I” thought he should. I realized yesterday at the funeral that he taught me a very important lesson about which he was adamant: balance in life. We have all seen men crash and burn (or not) in situations where the rest of their lives are not working, yet they are successful temporarily) in MDI. We saw it in the Sterling Men’s Division even more. Doug was the first to say, “I can’t commit to do this for you because I have a family to take care of”. We are a better and more successful team for the example. Yet, he contributed modestly and productively to MDI as a whole without many men even knowing who he was.

We have gone through a lot of discussion and talk about the man he was to us all and that will inevitably slow down as we come to terms with his absence and his legacy. As a victim of ALS, he had already created relationships within that community. One such young man came forward yesterday to eulogize Doug and did it in an extraordinary way, through asking us all to meditate with him. He asked us to silently think about ways in which Doug had affected us. My mind almost exploded with everything that came into my head. Many of us felt likewise and said it from the pulpit. BUT there was one man who stood up and brought the house down with a story that was SO Doug Ernst.

This man and Doug were fellow journalists and rival College Football buddies from San Jose State and Fresno State. They went to a championship game together and 10 minutes from the end, Fresno was winning by 30 points. They decided to leave. Big mistake (Kinda like that Raiders game 40 years ago)! As they walked away they could hear the San Jose crowd cheering loudly again and again. By the time they got to the car the noise was deafening and they found out SJ had won by one point. Silence ensued in the car on the way back to Napa. And this is where it gets good! The next day, Doug was driving in his friend’s neighborhood with two of his daughters. He pulled up at the house and rang the bell. His friend came to the door. Not every having met Doug’s girls before he was delighted but Doug’s introduction to them went like this: “Girls, I just wanted you to know what a Loser looks like”! And then they left.

For those of you who knew Doug you know that this story is vintage Ernst. For those of you who have never met him, know that you have had the privilege of being in an organization with a wonderful, caring and exceptional man who may have had more influence on you than you could ever know. He has worked with Jim Ellis and contributed to Legacy Magazine for quite some time and we are at a loss without him.


Dear friends,

The news I have to share is not good, but I have enjoyed the luxury of intimate, quality time together with Carolyn and our family to absorb the shock while sharing the love that saturates our 41 + years together.

I was diagnosed in late June with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease of unknown origin that took the lives of Lou Gehrig, Dwight Clark and Stephen Hawking, among others. The great ALS team at Kaiser San Rafael says the life expectancy is 3to 5 years, but sometimes it is shorter, depending on when the symptoms first started and how quickly the disease advances; or longer, with time added for good behavior. My symptoms became apparent in March when I started limping. I am using a standard wheelchair to get around, and am beginning to scoot around in a power chair and a van with a chair lift. Our home is being remodeled.

I intend to keep living life to the fullest. I will stay involved in the Napa Valley community. I helped publicize the ALS Association’s Ride to Defeat ALS in Yountville on September 22, and gathered a team of riders, walkers and volunteers. My family was selected to hand out beads at the finish line.

The Yountville ride/walk raised $960,000 last year and organizers are convinced we will hit $1 million this time. The money goes into three pots: research, treatment and advocacy. I am advocating because I have learned how close scientists are to finding a cure through stem cell technology. I offered to be used as a test subject but am three years too old.

I am planning to travel with Carolyn in 2019to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and to the Grand Canyon. My book, “Willi and Pauli: How Love and Faith Beat the Nazis,” a true love-and-war adventure and historic account of the lives of my parents (1909-2005), has been submitted for publication as an e-book and should be available to all,including Steven Spielberg.

Mainly, I want to connect with as many of my friends and associates as possible.  On Dec. 1 friends are planning to stage a “First Annual Living Memorial,” where folks will be encouraged to share memories of our time together on this earth. At the event, Carolyn and I are planning to repeat our vows in honor of our 41-year marriage (venue and time TBD).

Carolyn is my hero, soulmate, caregiver, lifelong friend, lover and confidant. I fall in love again and again every day. She deserves contact, comfort and encouragement. Please, friends, reach out to her. I could not have been any luckier. I’ve been getting fastballs down the middle all my life and have had my share of homers. I will deal with this curve the best way I can, by asking for help. The rest of my story will not be about longevity, but rather, quality of life. Thanks for being a big part of my journey.

In peace, and with much love,

Doug Ernst

From the family: In lieu of flowers, please send contributions to the ALS Association’s Golden West Chapter, NEWS, Napa Valley College Foundation or Mentor Discover Inspire.

1 thought on “An Ode to Doug Ernst (1954 – 2018)”

  1. Fred "Kiltman" Coburn

    Doug is my friend and my sponsor to the Men’s Weekend. I am going to miss him dearly and when I look up in the night sky and see the constellation of Orion I say hello to my friend in hopes that he hears me.

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