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Pioneering Cleveland journalist Doris O'Donnell dies at age 94

| Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, 11:42 a.m.
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Longtime journalist Doris O’Donnell died Sept. 27, 2015, at age 94.
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Doris O’Donnell is seen in this photo with the late Dick Scaife, publisher of the Tribune-Review.

Doris O'Donnell's journalism career began during World War II. When she retired 50 years later, Bill Clinton was finishing his first term in the White House.

Mrs. O'Donnell, who died Sunday at age 94, started and ended her career in Cleveland. In between, she spent more than 15 years with the Tribune-Review in Greensburg.

“She was a good, thorough writer,” said Jack Markowitz, a business reporter and columnist with the Trib. “She had a great feel for local news. She was one of those solid local reporters — crime, courts, politics, that sort of thing.”

In Cleveland, she covered the Sam Sheppard murder trial that grabbed national headlines and inspired the TV show and film “The Fugitive.” Her reporting took her to Dallas after President Kennedy's assassination and to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

“Her career spanned a long time, and so many key things happened in that career,” said Matt Groll, chairman of the Allegheny Foundation and Mrs. O'Donnell's longtime friend. “She was close to a lot of the action.”

Mrs. O'Donnell knew from age 13 that she wanted to be a journalist. As a teen, she distributed a handwritten newsletter of events happening on her street.

“The only thing I ever wanted in my life was a newspaper job,” she wrote in “Front-Page Girl,” a memoir published in 2006 by The Kent State University Press.

She joined the Cleveland News in October 1944 and wrote obituaries, covered war casualties and reported on zoning issues before taking on the police beat.

“The city editors knew on any assignment I would come back with the story,” she wrote. “There were times when males went out four or five times and came back empty. On the sixth try, I got it.”

She married Howard Beaufait, a reporter at the News, in September 1957 at St. John's Cathedral in downtown Cleveland. Two years later, shortly before the News ceased publishing, she joined the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

She was a spokeswoman for Cleveland's mayor in 1973 when she and her husband heard about a job opportunity in Western Pennsylvania. The Trib's late publisher Dick Scaife had bought the Greensburg newspaper and “was looking for a few veteran hands to help reorganize it,” she wrote.

She continued to work at the Trib, mostly general assignment news, after her husband's death from cancer in 1976. She was a prolific writer, Markowitz said, “a first-rate writer and reporter.”

As a trustee for the Alle­gheny Foundation for more than 30 years, she brought “qualities that you look for in a reporter” to the board of the charitable organization that focuses on historic preservation, civic development and education, Groll said.

“She was inquisitive and engaged, and knew a lot of the issues that we were dealing with,” he said.

At 70, she rejoined the Plain Dealer in 1991 as a suburban reporter. She retired in February 1996.

She was inducted into the Press Club of Cleveland Hall of Fame in 1984, having won numerous state and regional awards during her career.

Ferolia Funeral home in Sagamore Hills, Ohio, is handling arrangements for Mrs. O'Donnell's funeral Mass at St. Mary's in Hudson.

“I was lucky,” she wrote in her memoir. “I got great assignments even though I worked with many men and women I knew were more talented than I was. But my special talent was working hard.”

Tony Raap is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7827 or traap@tribweb.com.

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