Fred Donaldson, 80, formerly of Hatfield, a colorful journalist, editor and publisher of the Philadelphia Bulletin, Intercounty Newspaper Group and Journal Register Co., and an innovative entrepreneur, died Tuesday, May 31 of coronary heart disease while he was on a cruise to Ocean Cay, Bahamas.
Mr Donaldson wanted to be a ranger as a child and later considered becoming a rabbi. Instead, he got a job out of high school in 1959 as a copyist at the Bulletin newspaper and launched a lifelong career as a crusading journalist and blogger, tireless editor, inventive publisher, pioneer of the digital and consultant.
“He literally mastered every aspect of the local press,” a friend and colleague said in a tribute.
At the Bulletin, Mr. Donaldson was promoted quickly from copywriter to reporter then rewrote overnight and nicknamed “Fearless Fred” by his editor. He was in the office and had to stop the presses when President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and he interviewed visiting foreign dignitaries and wrote articles, music reviews and a column called Ethical Issues. in which he responds to readers’ letters.
He left the Bulletin in 1965 to become a reporter, editor and page designer for the Intercounty Newspaper Group, which published dozens of local weeklies in Conshohocken, Roxborough, Lafayette Hill, West Oak Lane, Phoenixville, Valley Forge and elsewhere in the Philadelphia area.
In 33 years, he became the company’s advertising director in 1969, then administrative vice president, publisher, senior vice president, and finally president and CEO in 1993. Despite his increased responsibilities as an executive, he was known to his colleagues as the “Dean of Weekly Newspapers” – Mr. Donaldson never lost his taste for reporting, writing and innovation.
In addition to improving circulation and advertising revenue as publisher and president of newspapers, he contributed fiery editorials, investigative reporting that caused change, poignant calls for community engagement and a weekly column on cars, one of his personal passions.
He was opinionated and forceful and particularly enjoyed reporting on what he called “corrupt government and crony capitalism”. His wife, Linda, called him “Crusader Rabbit” after the TV cartoon character and said: “He was never afraid of a fight. He was brutally honest. He wanted to know why things were happening and what could be done about it. He knew how to find out things.
Mr. Donaldson remained with Journal Register Co. after the acquisition of Intercounty in 1998, helped grow its presence in the emerging Internet and served as chief commercial officer, general manager and other leadership positions. until his “semi-retirement” in 2007. After that. , he created freddonaldson.com and blogged weekly on politics, health and culture.
Over the years, Mr. Donaldson has also worked with his wife as a printer, programmer and graphic design consultant. He sold Australian stamps to collectors, advised his wife on her affairs and, since 2007, made himself available online for “day or week tips for newspapers – small daily weeklies and all sizes”.
Born on October 5, 1941 in Philadelphia, Mr Donaldson suffered from heart disease as a boy but excelled in track and cross country in high school and graduated from Central in 1959. He married Judith Kaufthiel and they had sons Adam and Noah and daughter Jane. After a divorce he married Linda Kirby in 1973, and they lived in Glenside and Hatfield and had a son Benjamin.
He joined Beth Tikvah-B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue in Erdenheim, served on committees and the board, and was twice elected president of the congregation. He served on the boards of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association and the local chapter of the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism, and raised funds and improved conditions for students with special needs.
Mr. Donaldson was a skilled builder and landscaper. He had a baritone voice and sang show tunes to his wife. He loved photography, cars and cruises. He read voraciously, adored his family, and enjoyed visiting local historical societies and museums when he traveled.
He underwent heart surgery in 2008, and he and his wife moved to Ocala, Florida in 2021. “A man with a sweeter heart than Fred would be hard to find,” his wife said. “He was a really generous person.”
In addition to his wife, children and ex-wife, Mr. Donaldson is survived by six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and other relatives. A sister died earlier.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, July 17 at the Baldwin Brothers Funeral & Cremation Society, 11250 SW 93rd Court Rd., Suite 300, Ocala, Fla. 34481.