Cat Donavan was an editor at the DePaulia, the school newspaper, and our intern. She took great inspiration from her father and wrote this on the eve of his retirement. It is a testament not only to him but to the thousands of journalists who do the right thing day in and day out.
This is what she posted on Facebook and is republished with her permission.
By Cat Donavan
My Dad retires tomorrow after 39 years with the Indianapolis Star. I’d like to take a moment to tell a story and talk about my newspaperman father.
Mom was always the first to rise in the morning at the Leyden house. She’d head down to the kitchen, make coffee and turn on the 10-inch television to the 5 a.m. local news. This was the 90s before the Internet and before smartphones sent breaking news notifications within minutes of some disaster. If anything happened overnight, you actually did have to wait for the newspaper to hit your door or the early TV news.
So, mom was always first to know if bad news broke. Her method of relaying that information to my sleeping father was by shouting up the staircase. So, you can imagine as grade school children, Maureen and I would be startled awake and hear with regularity things like:
Tom! A building’s on fire downtown! Tom! So-and-so’s dead! Tom! There’s been an explosion!
Occasionally, Dad would take Maureen and me to the Star on a Saturday so he could finish something up. I loved these Saturdays! It was so exciting to drive downtown and walk into the humming newsroom. Dad would always remind us how to properly greet his coworkers and mind our manners. I looked up to newspaper people. I very much still do today more than ever. They have their thumb on the pulse of an entire city! When my childhood friends would ask me what my Dad did, I was so proud to say he works at the Indianapolis Star.
The industry transformation my Dad has witnessed over nearly four decades is remarkable. When he started in 1980, the newsroom was filled with typewriters and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke that hovered at desk level. He watched the paste-up machines and printing presses go and the computers arrive. Film cameras were swapped out for digital. And after decades of overseeing the City and State desks, Indystar.com was born. Dad saw where things were headed and he embraced the change by applying for a job on the new Online desk.
The date was Dec. 13, 2003 and I was home from college on winter break. It was early morning, still dark outside. And like so, so many mornings before, my mom shouted up the stairs.
“Tom. Tom! TOM!”
“They found him. They found Saddam Hussein!”
I heard my Dad quickly get out of bed, walk across the hall and crack my door open.
“Wanna go downtown?”
“I’ll be ready in five minutes.”
It was probably 6 a.m. when we headed south down Central Avenue for 307 N. Pennsylvania Street. We arrived to the surprise of the security guards at the backdoor and headed upstairs where we were the first in the newsroom that morning.
At the time, I was a cub photographer at my university’s student newspaper. So, as Dad fired up his computer I excitedly asked: “What can I do?” Thinking to myself, I just finished a trimester of Journalism 101. I can call the White House for comment. Maybe the State Department? One of these rolodexes must have Colin Powell’s cell.
My Dad smiled and asked: “Do you know how to make coffee?”
So, if you worked that day in 2003 and had a cup of coffee from the newsroom kitchen and thought to yourself, “this tastes off,” now you know.
I’ll finish with this. Since Nov. 9, 2016, my family group text would often turn to daily commentary on these bizarre, sad and frustrating times. But never once did my Dad respond with his opinion on any political conversation in our private group text. Even after being labeled an “Enemy of the People.” Why? Because, just like so many other journalists digging to get to the bottom of their stories, on a never-ending quest for the unbiased truth, he’s a newspaperman. A human pillar of the First Amendment and a free and open press, which he spent his career upholding and protecting at The Indianapolis Star.
Since Jan. 13, 1980, the citizens of Indiana have been better off because of my Dad. Whether as a reporter, city editor, state editor or online editor, he worked long hours every day to bring Hoosiers the real news they needed to be educated about their community, make decisions for their families, hold people in public offices accountable or just appreciate their state a little more.
As you can imagine, the qualities that make my Dad a good newspaperman make him a great father. He’s an exceptional listener. And living in a house with three ladies he did a lot of listening. He is patient and open-minded. And through my teen and young adult years, he always had a way of making my exaggerated life crises seem manageable.
At home, he taught us the importance of honesty, respecting others – especially those you might disagree with, standing up for what’s right and using our voice. And you better believe that after working a long day and getting home late and tired, he sat down with me every night at our kitchen table to help me with my math homework.
Congratulations, Newshawk. I love you, Dad.
(Photo circa mid 90s taken at the Indianapolis Star.)