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Don Hill: Remembering A Consummate Newsman, Mentor, And Friend

Former RFE/RL senior editor and correspondent Donald Hill

Former RFE/RL senior editor and correspondent Donald Hill passed away in Prague on April 23, 2016.

Donald Hill, a retired senior editor and correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty whose half-century career also included working for newspapers in Virginia and serving as vice president for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, has died. He was 85.

Don, as he was known to friends and colleagues, died in Prague on April 23 of complications from Parkinson's disease.

At age 65, when many people already enjoy retirement, Don joined RFE/RL in Prague in 1995. During his time at RFE/RL, he distinguished himself with his elegant writing and crisp editing. He retired from his position in 2005 at age 75.

A native of Corvallis, Oregon, Don's father was a U.S. Army officer and a graduate of West Point, taking his family along to posts that included Korea and Panama.

After a stint with the U.S. Army in Germany and Korea, Don took a job with The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia. Assigned to the maritime beat, he soon showed the skill as a wordsmith that would be a hallmark of his career in journalism. He authored an award-winning series of stories chronicling his adventures while hiking the length of the James River, from its headwaters in western Virginia to the sea. He rose to become city editor for the newspaper.

Don later became Washington bureau chief for Landmark Communications, a newspaper chain that included The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, as well as the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Roanoke Times, both in Virginia. A highlight of his tenure in Washington was his coverage of the Watergate hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974.

At RFE/RL, Don was also known as a fashionable dresser who rarely wore anything other than a tie and jacket. He was always generous with his advice to younger staffers. He was outspoken about his former struggle with alcoholism and proud that he had not had a drink for several decades.

Jeremy Bransten, director of RFE/RL's Central Newsroom, said, "Don was a newsman to the core and a mentor, but more importantly he was dapper, witty, self-deprecating, and kind. He was the definition of a true gentleman. He made our world a better place."

Don once asked a fellow journalist what he thought was the most important article one could write.

"Perhaps reporting a big story about the president. Or covering a war, a revolution, or an earthquake," the younger journalist answered.

"An obituary," Don said. "Think about it. What other newspaper clip would be carried in somebody's wallet for years, possibly for decades?"

In addition to his widow, Maggie Ledford Lawson of Prague, survivors include his former wife, Eva Fuhrman; a sister, Jocelyn Williams; his children from a previous marriage: Donald Hill, of Ijamsville, Maryland, and Susan Zambory, of Burke, Virginia; five step-children: Edward Lawson and Sarah Russell, both of Rural Retreat, Virginia., Charles Lawson of Wytheville, Virginia, Margaret Rose Lanahan of Asheville, North Carolina, and Laura Rosbottom of Raleigh, North Carolina.

His ashes will be scattered at Laurel Fork in Virginia's George Washington National Forest.

Frank Csongos was a friend and colleague of Mr. Hill at RFE/RL.