Sam Griffin on Mary Frances Donalson: ‘Farewell, old friend’

Published 3:40 pm Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mary Frances Donalson slipped quietly away from the company of friends Thursday morning to seek comfort and consolation from her Creator after a spirited, but ultimately unsuccessful, argument with cancer. Those of us who knew her, worked with her and loved her consider that it may have been the first time she ever left an argument without the final word.

Her death ends more than a half-century of community journalism, much of it with The Post-Searchlight. During her career, she wrote features, obituaries, social news, church news and gardening. She covered city and county government beats, court records and elections. She wrote about dogs, cats, horses and mules with obvious fondness. She wrote eloquently and adoringly about day lilies as perhaps no one else could have done. She wrote about people—her friends and neighbors, travelers and newcomers, people in their jobs, people doing all sorts of things, and she enjoyed and reveled in them all.

But most of all she loved writing about crime and law enforcement. She was at her absolute happiest when she was right in the midst of the action in a chase, a manhunt or investigation—surrounded by troopers, deputies or Bainbridge Public Safety Officers—anywhere, any time and for any purpose. She respected peace officers and considered it her duty to see that they were duly recognized and not taken for granted.

Email newsletter signup

And if she could find a story about a law officer that also included a dog—well! That was the ultimate, a grand slam.

Mary Frances Donalson was a talented individual and a gifted writer. She loved and served her Lord, her church, her community and her friends. She was a steadfast friend and a fierce adversary in all things.

She was passionate about her profession, with good instincts and her own definite notions of how-and when-things should be done. These latter traits sometimes made negotiating a schedule or assignment interesting for her colleagues—one of whom once remarked that Mary Frances was a walking argument looking for an opportunity—but her zeal was a part of the passion she brought to the job, and when the smoke cleared she was always right up in the front ranks with everyone else. This quality prompted me to give her the title, “Top Soldier.” And she did truly enjoy the give and take of an argument.

One Wednesday afternoon just a few years ago, when we had all of the fires beaten out, the snakes stomped and the Indians expelled from the fort until the next issue, she stopped in my office to tell me about some ideas she had for a series. She reminded me she had done a similar series years back, and she waxed a bit nostalgic as we recalled it.

She said, “You know, people ask me all the time, ‘When are you going to retire? Why don’t you sell your house in Attapulgus and move into a retirement home? You could do all kinds of things you like to do.’

“And I’ve thought about it, but I really don’t know of anything I could do that I would enjoy more than what I am doing now,” she said.

“In fact,” she continued, cutting her eyes at me, “I’ve always kind of thought that I would … well … I’d like to …” she hesitated.

I interrupted her: “You’ve always thought that you’d like to plow right on and go out on the job, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” she grinned, obviously relieved.

“That’s fine,” I told her, “but not on my watch.”

My watch is over, and Mary Frances is gone; but she was never far from the job—nor from the hearts of her former colleagues.

We shared a common heritage, a common treasure chest of friends and acquaintances, a common dedication to a newspaper and a people.

I will miss her—her skills, her fire and her passion for the craft, and, most of all, her personal friendship, trust and devotion. But I still have wonderful memories of the years we worked together, the thoughts and laughs we shared, the minor victories we won … and even the arguments.

Farewell, old friend. No more deadlines to make. You’re home.