One of a kind: Saying goodbye to Rich Donnelly

Dan McDonough, owner of Philadelphia Weekly, fills in for Editor Kerith Gabriel this week.In 2016, Rich Donnelly was one of the most consequential people in the Philadelphia region that I had never heard of.Over the course of four decades, Rich…

Dan McDonough, owner of Philadelphia Weekly, fills in for Editor Kerith Gabriel this week.

In 2016, Rich Donnelly was one of the most consequential people in the Philadelphia region that I had never heard of.

Over the course of four decades, Rich did something few people do in business – he built a company into a regional powerhouse — from scratch. In 2016, when I was first introduced to Rich, I was blown away that I had never met or heard of this man who built a company that distributes publications and circulars to nearly a million homes in the region.

But that was the nature of Rich — soft-spoken, but decisive in business; successful, but not boastful.

Rich quickly became a business relationship, and then a friend. Over the short time I knew him, I came to cherish and respect his modesty in success, his love and care of the people who surrounded him, and his gentle and compassionate leadership.

Rich, who owned this publication before me, died on Dec. 14. He was 61 and his passing arrived just a few days after his birthday. On that day Philadelphia lost a man who made his mark here without the fanfare most would seek out. But I lost a dear friend and source of illuminating wisdom.

In some ways, Rich could never sit still. That made him a source of inspiration. Most folks who would go on to build a company as significant as Donnelly Distribution from its humble beginnings out of a garage would begin to take a break and enjoy the fruits of retirement. Not Rich. He got into the community newspaper business with partners a few years before we met.

Over time, he bought out his partners and continued to build this new business through acquisitions. In August 2016 I sold The Sun Newspapers in New Jersey to Rich and was amazed at how comfortable I felt that the company, the customers, the employees and the readers were in good hands. For the most part, all of those constituents are still intact at Newspaper Media Group, which today has grown to more than 50 publications. That’s a testament to Rich’s measured leadership. Of all the business deals I’ve done, none have felt more respectful and comfortable as the deal I did with Rich.

I believe this city in particular is full of consequential figures who barely see any limelight — folks who stitch the fabric of Philadelphia because they have a driving passion for the city and their neighborhoods, and not because of their egos. Rich was one of those people from the Northeast who set his sights on making something significant.

In my opinion, the people of Philadelphia owe Rich a debt of gratitude — but he would be pissed at me for even suggesting that.

On the day he died, I sent a note of gratitude to Rich’s son Sean, who has followed in his father’s footsteps in carefully taking the reins of the family enterprise while adding his own enhancing touches.

I effervesced a bit about Rich’s impact on me, and the mark he made. Sean’s reply to me aptly summed up Richard W. Donnelly, Jr. — He was one of a kind.

Rest in peace, my friend. You won’t be forgotten, Rich.

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  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. Journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.