OSSINING, N.Y. – John Chervokas, a former town supervisor who invented the slogan "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin" during his career as an advertising executive, died on Saturday from a stroke after a five-year battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 74.
"He was just an incredibly creative guy, an incredibly patient man," said Chervokas' son, Jason, who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson. "There's a famous story told by family members that when he was in grade school he had to use the word 'pigment'. He said, 'I knew what the horse said but I didn't know what the pig meant.'"
Chervokas' love of words and groan-inducing puns led him to a 40-year career in advertising. In 1964, while working as a junior copywriter at the advertising company Benton & Bowles, Chervokas was asked to come up with something to demonstrate softness for Proctor & Gamble's toilet paper Charmin.
Chervokas conjured up an image of women squeezing fruit at the supermarket with a manager telling them to stop. That led to the famous "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin" ad campaign with the fictional supermarket manager Mr. Whipple who asks shoppers not to squeeze the Charmin.
"He always had a different spin at some public event. We anticipated his arrival at the podium knowing that we would thoroughly enjoy his always very clever comments," said Richard Wishnie, another former Ossining town supervisor who served for four years before Chervokas' 10-year term, which lasted from 1998 to 2008.
Chervokas was always interested in politics, Jason Chervokas said. When his kids were growing up in the mid 1970s, he was president of the Ossining School Board. He helped transform the school district from a racially segregated community where minorities went to one school and whites to another, to an integrated school district where kids grew up knowing other kids from all backgrounds.
After Chervokas retired from advertising, he turned to public service full-time. During his time as town supervisor, he was the chairman of the Historic River Towns, a committee that sets policy for the waterfront, and he oversaw the building of a new police facility on North State Road for the Town of Ossining.
"My memories of John are nothing short of just a very, very extraordinary, unique person," said Wishnie. "From his professional life, he was clearly a creative genius and he brought those talents to everything he did in public life."
Chervokas was a religious man, and he always treated people with great respect, Wishnie said. One of his trademarks was the word 'joy'.
"He wanted people to enjoy their lives and he would always say 'joy' at the end. It was something we always associated with him," Wishnie said.
Ossining Village Mayor William Hanauer said Chervokas' eloquence could calm a volatile situation.
"He had a great sense of humor and he could calm the waters by the way in which he expressed the issues," Hanauer said.
After having been elected to a sixth term as town supervisor, Chervokas stepped down from public office because he was afflicted with Parkinson's disease. After a five-year battle with the disease he died Saturday at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan.
Chervokas is survived by his wife of 48 years, Roseanna; his sons, Jason of Hastings and Josh of Manhattan; his daughter, Jessica Hoyer of Briarcliff Manor; and three grandchildren, Emily Chervokas and Julia and Zachary Hoyer.
A wake for Chervokas will be held Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Dorsey Funeral Home at 14 Emwilton Place, and a funeral will follow on Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Theresa's Church at 1394 Pleasantville Road in Briarcliff Manor.
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