In Memoriam: Dana Schorr

by Richard W. Hughes

Gem dealer, world traveler, activist, Dana Schorr passed away on 5 August 2015 at age 63, following a heart attack.

6 August 2015 – Dana Schorr was a close friend of mine. Despite the great distance between Santa Barbara and Bangkok, we stayed in contact and often spoke to each other more than once a week.

Dana at heart was a rebel. Prior to getting into gems, he was involved in radical politics, with the Students for a Democratic Society, from what I understand. It was this that led him to get involved with printing, so that messages could be more widely spread.

While Dana did not have a religious bone in his body, he explained to me once that his Jewish upbringing taught him to question everything. He told me that in Judaism, there is traditionally no dogma, and that all ideas should be questioned and argued, something which he practiced “religiously.”

Dana was a seeker, a seeker of truth. His questioning of others often created discomfort, because it forced them to reexamine ideas that they had previously accepted blindly.

Dana was a fearless traveler, who had no qualms about descending deep into mines, nor walking to the edge of great precipices. Here he is preparing to enter a shaft at Tanzania's Winza ruby mines.

Dana was a fearless traveler, who had no qualms about descending deep into mines, nor walking to the edge of great precipices. Here he is preparing to enter a shaft at Tanzania's Winza ruby mines. Click on the image for a larger view. Photo: E. Billie Hughes

He got involved in the gem business in the 1980’s, which is when I first met him (in Bangkok). But it was only after I returned to live in the US that I came to know Dana well. He was heavily involved in the tanzanite trade and made numerous trips to Tanzania. I believe that was how he first became interested in the situation of artisanal miners in developing nations.

Dana Schorr on the trail to Madagascar's Moramanga ruby and sapphire mines

Dana Schorr on the trail to Madagascar's Moramanga ruby and sapphire mines. Click on the image for a larger view. Author's photo, 2005

In 2004, I invited him to join me on a trip to Burma’s ruby and jade mines and Cambodia’s mines. The following year we visited Madagascar. 2006 saw us in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, 2011 we went to Tibet and in 2013, Dana and I toured East Africa (Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia). All of these trips involved visiting colored stone mines, most of them artisanal.

In the last couple years, Dana became interested in the various measures being proposed for corporate social responsibility in the colored stone realm. He spent a lot of time looking at the various initiatives and drafted some withering critiques, based on his own experience working with colored stones. I can say with some certainty that he was not the most popular guy in the room. But as Mark Twain once said: "The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.”

Dana Schorr lecturing with the author in at the Bowers Museum in California in 2007

Dana Schorr lecturing with the author in at the Bowers Museum in California in 2007. Click on the image for a larger view. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul

I attended a panel discussion in London in November 2014 at the Gem-A where Dana was one of the speakers (along with Greg Valerio and Vivien Johnston). Despite the fact that he couldn’t spell dog if you spotted him a D and a G, he gave an eloquent presentation that laid out many of the problems with the proposals being put forward by groups like the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) and Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Working Group (PS-MSWG). Perhaps the best presentation I’ve seen on the subject (Greg and Vanessa’s presentations were great, too).

Dana Schorr, bleeding head liberal. Click on the image for a larger view. Author's photo, Longido, Tanzania, 2013

Dana Schorr, bleeding head liberal, at Tanzania's Longido ruby mines. Click on the image for a larger view. Author's photo, Longido, Tanzania, 2013

Dana was one of my closest friends. I often disagreed with him, but always knew where his heart was. I’m devastated at the news. The world will be a less pleasant place without his smile, without his laughter, without his intellectual challenges, without his heart.

Dana Schorr in the ancient galleries at Tajikistan's Kuh-i-Lal spinel mines. Click on the image for a larger view. Author's photo, 2006

Dana Schorr and Richard Hughes returning from a trek to see the silverback gorillas in Rwanda in 2013.

Dana Schorr and Richard Hughes returning from a trek to see the silverback gorillas in Rwanda in 2013. We were in Rwanda exploring the country's sapphire mines. Click on the image for a larger view. Photo: E. Billie Hughes

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