A Life Without Limits


Former National Cable & Telecommunications Association associate general counsel David Nicoll, who died of cancer Oct. 25, was a very special human being.

David lived and breathed communications law and politics. Before he became NCTA's general counsel, David had worked as a communications lawyer at a Washington, D.C., firm, the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was also an avid sports fan, with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball. But his real victory was the example he set for everyone whose life he touched.

Left without the use of one hand and one foot as the result of a childhood stroke, David was determined to live his life as normally as possible.

The fact that David needed to steady himself with a cane and could only rely on one good hand and one good foot was an inconvenience, not a handicap. Even if he wasn't the world's greatest driver, David insisted on steering himself. He never wanted “to burden” anyone else.

When David's balance worsened, and walking with a cane became more problematic, he refused a motorized scooter, yielding only to necessity when getting around McCormick Place or the New Orleans Convention Center during the National Show. And while David's NCTA colleagues would always help him up when he'd fall, David was determined not to let his physical challenges restrict his activities.

Even more remarkably, David never complained about any physical limitations. Indeed, in all the years I knew David, I never once heard him complain about the effects of his stroke.

And David never gave up hope that he might regain some mobility. Reading in The New York Times about an experimental physical therapy program for stroke patients in Birmingham, Ala., David enrolled. The odds were long and some 40 years had elapsed since his stroke. But he never gave up trying to plow through his limits.

So in January of this year, when David was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, it seemed to everyone who knew him that this was too cruel an act of fate. But David faced this battle with the same courage and determination with which he approached everything else in life. He elected to undergo brain surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. And even when side effects of the surgery deprived David of most of his remaining mobility, he sought once again to regain his motor skills through physical therapy. Though his will proved much stronger than his body, David never gave up.

He'd even spend some time at physical therapy counseling stroke patients whom he'd met there, encouraging them not to give up either.

Even when it became clear that David's battle with this aggressive cancer would not be won, David's thoughts were about others, not himself. He'd want visitors to talk about their lives or about what's happening in cable, politics or sports. He expressed his wish that the cable industry commit its enormous resources, as Cable Positive has done for HIV/AIDS, to bring information about cancer care to people who do not have the circle of friends or information and access to care that David felt blessed to have.

David encountered more challenges in his 56 years than most of us will ever face in life. And he took them on with incredible resolve, selflessness and dignity.

More than anything David accomplished as a communications lawyer, he taught us what courage, positive thinking and leadership by example truly mean.