On the balmy evening of Saturday, Feb. 7, retail and fashion consultants Harry Bernard and Roy Colton were having dinner at one of their favorite seafood restaurants, McCormick & Kuleto’s in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square. It had been a warm, cloudless day for a change, and the clear evening sky with an almost-full moon gave the couple views of the lights of Sausalito and Marin County across San Francisco Bay; they perhaps could even make out the still-forbidding outline of Alcatraz Island against the night sky.
While McCormick & Kuleto’s wasn’t their all-time favorite restaurant, they nonetheless were regulars because it wasn’t too far from their well-furnished apartment on Laguna Street or the headquarters of their company, Colton Bernard Inc., near Union Square.
Few diners in the restaurant that evening probably looked twice at the two men, who had been companions and business partners for 40 years and were known for always being stylishly dressed and for their love of food and fine wines. The maitre d’ no doubt recognized them, as did the waiters and waitresses. But no one would have guessed this dinner was an extra special one for Colton and Bernard. It was their last meal.
A few hours later, upon returning to their apartment in Pacific Heights, the two men would commit suicide together by taking a deadly concoction of pills, the recipe for which was drawn from the book “Final Exit.”
The act, which one of their longtime friends described as “operatic,” stunned those who knew them and intrigued even those who didn’t. How did two seemingly successful executives get to this point?
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Bernard and Colton were well-respected marketing consultants who enjoyed the finer things in life. They dined at expensive restaurants while racking up points on Opentable.com; socialized frequently with friends and business associates; shopped at Neiman Marcus; attended the San Francisco Opera and Ballet, and vacationed annually in St. Barth’s. They had an apartment in New York in addition to the one in San Francisco, had worked for a string of major companies and seemed to know almost every senior executive in the business.
But the truth was far from the reality. According to sources, their consulting and search business had dried up in the last two years; their company had no clients on retainer (they had lost their last one, Old Navy); they were mired in debt with no life savings, and were in failing health.
Bernard, 78, and Colton, 67, had hit the wall: they were two aging men in an industry that thrives on youth.
“They wanted to be seen as king and queen makers,” said Bill D’Arienzo, founder and chief executive officer of WDA BrandMarketing Solutions, who previously ran Colton Bernard’s New York office and continued to do projects with them. “They had a cadre of high-level executives that they nurtured.”