Judy Donovan poured her considerable news passion into the Star.
My good friend and former colleague at the Arizona Daily Star, Judy Donovan, passed into history Monday. Combating breast cancer, then lung cancer, it was a merciful end to a long, vigorous life.
My pal Judy was a newsroom pioneer. When she began reporting, in the 1950s, Ms. Donovan was a brassy dame working in a man’s world. Her stories from that era were priceless.
She loved stories. She adored history and books and disaster stories and Lizzie Borden.
Judy entered the world on March 4, 1936, in Chicago. She was such an impressive, serious-minded opinion maker I was stunned to discover Tucson’s very own cross between Molly Ivins and Anna Quindlen had been a cheerleader when she was a bobby-soxer at Marquette. In her youth she was a vivacious woman.
The adult I knew was a smart, independent and gritty woman with the compassionate heart of a Catholic Relief social worker.
After working for a minute at the Star in the mid-’50s young Judy Donovan took a reporting gig in Mexico City where she worked until the early 1960s. Fluent in German and Spanish, she was quite the intrepid Margaret Bourke-White. Her understanding of the border was peerless.
After Mexico City, Judy returned to the male-dominated Star where she initially worked in features, which made her cringe, because back then it was the domain for well-behaved women.
She said that corner of the newsroom was so conventional it had a white picket fence around it. Judy happily jumped to covering courts, and then education. Both beats were excellent training for an editorial writer. She spent half her 40 years at the Star as an editorial writer.
Judy was a citizen of the world who dearly loved this unique place. She was a happy champion for bilingual education. Judy wrote extensively about reservation issues and she was most proud of an epic series she wrote on the restoration of her beloved San Xavier.
I had the pleasure of working next to her in our editorial office for years when she was an editorial writer. I loved her frank and oftentimes salty language. I loved her forthright advocacy for the least among us. I loved watching my office coworker raise her magnificent daughter, Kate, perhaps her finest editing job, from childhood to adulthood.
Jim Purdy, a colleague in our office at the time said, “Editorial Board meetings should have been filmed! What passionate brawls! I loved Judy’s unwavering convictions and really enjoyed when someone argued an opposing point to hers!
“She’d detest that arguer’s guts for the duration of the debate, but afterward she’d warm to a mild disdain, but only for a day or two. (Naw, she never forgot!).” Jim added that Judy was, “militantly unmaterialistic, but would go gaga for Mont Blanc pens.”
Star reporter Tom Beal said, “Judy did not ‘suffer fools gladly,’ which, as an editorial writer in Arizona, left her in a perpetual state of righteous indignation.
“Fortunately, she had an outlet for it — well crafted editorials that exposed the foolishness and defended the powerless.
“Judy spoke truth to power long before it became ‘a thing.’ Smart, funny and compassionate, she was a trusted colleague and valuable teacher to me.”
Susan Albright, who was the Star’s Editorial Page editor, recalled Judy’s annual trips to Harrods department store in London to purchase “the only tea worth drinking.”
“She was always a powerful presence, both in person and on the page,” Albright remembered.
I always enjoyed showing Judy my cartoon roughs, with some trepidation.
For me she was a deliciously brutal critic with the highest standards (the best kind).
I sometimes felt it was my mission to make her swear like a sailor for our office’s amusement. I can imagine her editing me over my shoulder as I write this now, gritting her teeth, rolling her eyes and snarling at my errors, my grammar and syntax. I loved that woman.
It was no surprise when St. Judy retired that she threw herself into volunteer work such as feeding the homeless. She practiced, in quiet, the progressive virtues she vigorously preached her entire life in public.
She loved her daughter and her grandson, Zakaria, with all her heart. And her garden. And her cats. And her late beau, the great Star reporter, John Rawlinson. And writing.
Judy was a marvelous critical thinker, a powerful essayist, a vigorous world traveler and a hell of a woman. I have lost a great friend, a good-humored sister, a caring mother figure, a mentor, a storyteller and a confidante.
I will miss making my good, dear friend smile.