Martin Duggan became the leader of Donnybrook, one of the most popular locally produced programs in the nation when, after 45 years, his job at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat disappeared.
“I was 62, at the peak of my career, and some people thought I’d be the next publisher,” Mr. Duggan told St. Louis Magazine in 2009. “Then the paper was sold out from under us.”
But news was in his blood and soon the old newspaperman was a broadcast star. He began refereeing Donnybrook, a weekly news round-up show he created for KETC-TV Channel 9. He continued to do so for more than two decades.
The self-described provocateur of Donnybrook died Wednesday morning, May 27, at St. Agnes senior living center in Kirkwood, where he had recently moved from his longtime home in St. Louis County. He was 93.
In a voice as quietly conservative as his politics, and in a manner he likened to Bugs Bunny, Mr. Duggan hosted a panel composed of a raucous cast that needed very little provocation.
KMOX radio host Charlie Brennan, who joined the Donnybrook cast in 1992, said “working with Martin Duggan was a true pleasure.
“He provided a stage where people could be candid and friendly at the same time,” Brennan said. “He formulated the show so that everyone disagreed but remained civil.”
Mr. Duggan got the idea from watching The McLaughlin Group, a nationally syndicated show that featured pundits discussing the hot political topics of the day. He told the St. Louis Beacon he said he could do that. His wife, Mae, challenged him to go ahead. He shared his idea with two friends, St. Louis Business Journal co-founder Mark Vittert and a former Globe-Democrat colleague, Rich Koster. After considerable prodding, Vittert and Koster agreed to join him. Now, all he had to do was convince Channel 9.
In 1986, Mr. Duggan approached the public television station and in January of 1987, Donnybrook debuted. When he, Vittert, Koster and another original panelist, then Riverfront Times founder Ray Hartmann, taped the pilot, they had plenty of fodder for discussion.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was running a series about the mayor's money machine, and a young woman had been brutally murdered by a man she reportedly met through a singles’ ad in the Riverfront Times.
“So here we are, totally unrehearsed, unscripted, uninformed, and these are my opening words: ‘Ray Hartmann! A young Crestwood woman was found bound and gagged and burned to death…and they met through a so-called eligible ad in your newspaper!’” Mr. Duggan recalled in his interview with St. Louis Magazine.
“For the first and only time, Ray threw up his hands. He didn’t have anything to say,” Mr. Duggan recalled. “Mark turned to me and said, ‘Martin, I’m surprised you would ask a stupid question like that,’ and we were off and running.”
For the next 23 years, Donnybrook galloped along with Mr. Duggan riding herd. Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan became a permanent fixture and over the years, cast members included Anne Keefe and Nan Wyatt from KMOX, Post-Dispatch columnist Greg Freeman, Mayor Vince Schoemehl and KSDK-TV 5 general manager Bill Bolster. In more recent years, Wendy Wiese and Alvin Reid were among those who joined the fray.
The show became a multiple Emmy Award winner. Brennan succeeded Mr. Duggan.
“I agreed to try to replace him as provocateur,” Brennan said, “but people would say to me ‘you are doing a good job but we sure miss Martin.’
“I miss him, too,” Brennan said. “I knew I would follow a legend and it was really an honor.”
“Other broadcasting markets have tried to copy the success of Donnybrook,” said Nine Network President and CEO Jack Galmiche in a statement, “but it was Martin and his friendship with the panel members that made the show so compelling — and impossible to replicate.”
While hosting Donnybrook, Mr. Duggan appeared regularly on other broadcast media. For 15 years, he hosted Beat the Press with ‘Easy’ Ed Macauley on KSIV radio. For a number of years he and his wife, Mae, hosted Catholic Saint Louis on station WRYT. He and Ray Hartmann debated on Point/Counterpoint on KMOX radio and on Face-Off on KTVI Channel 2. He was interviewed weekly on St. Louis Public Radio. Mr. Duggan also provided frequent political commentary, particularly on election nights, on St. Louis media.
Before people began setting their VCRs on Thursday evenings for Donnybrook, Mr. Duggan was best known as the editorial page editor at the Globe-Democrat. In 1939, while in college, he got a summer job at the Globe pasting up syndicated copy for Sunday features. He earned $20.
After two summers at the Globe and a stateside stint in the Marine Corps during World War II (he credited boot camp for his success on Donnybrook), the Globe hired Mr. Duggan full-time as a copy editor for the news desk.
He moved steadily through the ranks at the Globe. He became news editor, associate managing editor, and ultimately editorial page editor, before retiring when the Globe was sold in 1984. Not long after, President Ronald Reagan appointed Mr. Duggan chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on Federal Pay, a volunteer position he held from 1984 until 1991.
During the 1950s, he and his wife, Mae, shared a byline on a column on family and faith titled Together for the St. Louis Review.
His daughter, Mary Leahy, said Mr. Duggan simply considered himself a newsman.
“He loved the news,” Leahy said.
But he was no hard-edged curmudgeon. The people who knew him best “knew him as a teddy bear” she said.
Mr. Duggan’s charitable work included serving as vice chairman of the Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club and metropolitan area chairman of the National Alliance of Businessmen, a group that supports increasing minority employment. He also served as president of The Backstoppers, the Dismas Halfway House, the Laymen’s Retreat League and the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis.
He was among the first inductees into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Missouri Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2012. Mr. Duggan was planning to attend an awards ceremony on June 18 to receive the 2015 Archbishop Robert J. Carlson Excellence in Communication Award.
A Straight Shooter
Martin Lawler Duggan was born in south St. Louis on June 3, 1921, the third of Lawrence A. Duggan, a pressman, and Mary X. “Mae” Lawler Duggan’s four children. He graduated from South Side Catholic High School (now St. Mary’s High School). He earned a degree in sociology from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, where he attended on scholarship.
Both at the Globe and in the captain’s chair at Donnybrook, Mr. Duggan was known as a conservative voice.
A 2004 St. Louis Journalism Review feature called him “the principal voice of far-right conservatism in St. Louis,” but noted that “remarkably, in a political landscape dominated by division, invective and ill will, Duggan has managed to remain a revered, almost saintly presence among his friends, even those who disagree with him.”
His Media Halls of Fame award includes this quote: "Well, I'm a conservative, but I've got more friends among the Democrats than the Republicans. They're friendly people, for one thing, and there are more of them."
Perhaps his broad acceptance can be attributed to who he was.
“(Dad) was a straight shooter, honest, faithful to his friends and devoted to his wife,” his daughter said.
His marital devotion began when he wed Mary Margaret “Mae” Mosher in 1942, shortly before he joined the Marines, where he served as a staff sergeant recruiter and a news editor. They celebrated their 73rd anniversary May 26, the day before Mr. Duggan died.
He was preceded in death by his parents, a son, Thomas Duggan, and his siblings, Lawrence J. Duggan, Sr. Mary Laurent Duggan CSJ and Jerome J. Duggan.
In addition to his wife, Mae, his survivors include their children, Patrick (Joan) Duggan of Des Peres, Mo., Den (Marie) Duggan of St. Louis County, Joseph (Lucía) Duggan of Saudi Arabia, and Mary Duggan (Timothy) Leahy of Dallas; 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Mr. Duggan donated his body to the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. His services are being planned.