Hedley Donovan was a man of innate dignity who possessed a deep voice that commanded respect. His journalistic acumen commanded respect, as well. He was the editor-in-chief of Time Inc. for 15 years, beginning in 1964, the hand-picked successor of the company's cofounder Henry R. Luce. In that capacity, Donovan oversaw the creation of MONEY and PEOPLE magazines, directed the switch of FORTUNE from monthly to twice-monthly publication, worked to make TIME'S political coverage more evenhanded and presided over SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S climb from struggling upstart to publishing success.
Donovan was a serious man in a serious undertaking. Although many of his colleagues weren't aware of it, he was something of a sports fan—particularly when it came to teams from his native Minnesota. He was born there in 1914, and graduated magna cum laude in 1934 from the University of Minnesota, where he played intramural hockey. He became a Rhodes scholar, and his Minnesota-style hockey was impressive enough to earn him a place on the Oxford team; in '36 he traveled with it to Johannesburg for a game against Cambridge that inaugurated the first artificial ice rink in Africa.
Donovan always kept the faith with Minnesota teams. He talked about Harmon Killebrew as if the Twins slugger were one of the 20th century's great men, and when Donovan got a baseball autographed by Killebrew as a gift, he kept it conspicuously displayed on his desk. He agonized, sometimes in person, over the Vikings' losing four Super Bowls. When he attended the 1975 game against Pittsburgh in New Orleans, he sat in a Steeler section, wearing a large Viking headpiece complete with horns. He amused himself by making a dozen or so small bets with a companion on various things—including how far the longest punt would travel, what the temperature would be at the end of the game, how long it would take to get from the stadium to the hotel and how many people would be standing in line to get into Antoine's restaurant.
Tennis became his game, but his interest in sports was not confined to his spare time. In 1959, upon becoming Luce's second-in-command, Donovan surprised his boss by asking if he could concentrate for a while on SI. There ensued a series of trenchant, often funny notes of criticism from Donovan to the editors of SI. He wrote snappishly about one issue's lead SCORECARD item, "Surely, we shouldn't lead off the whole magazine with 'Look for an upset in the Big Ten swim meet.' Who, including this Big Ten boy, cares?" In 1960, Donovan even sat in for six weeks as SI's managing editor.
August 26, 1990
Donovan felt deeply about the magazines he oversaw, and all of them benefited from his stewardship. He retired as editor-in-chief in 1979, yet when he died in Manhattan last week at the age of 76 after a brief illness, it seemed as if he were casting a keen eye in our direction only yesterday.