A Legacy of Learning and Community
By Catherine Ryan
Santa Monica lost a remarkable teacher and community organizer on October 3, 2023, when Charles R. Donaldson passed away peacefully at the age of 89 at his home in Santa Monica. During the 31 years he taught English and Journalism at Santa Monica College, Donaldson’s witty and caring teaching style earned him a devoted following of many thousands of students.
He transformed the life of this writer, just as he inspired countless other students to become writers, journalists, editors, and teachers. He moved mountains for his pupils, securing scholarships and writing endless letters of recommendation while treating students as family members.
Over the years, Donaldson’s former students organized various reunions in his honor. The year following Donaldson’s 2004 retirement, alumni from across the nation returned to Santa Monica to present him with a lifetime achievement award.
“My greatest fortune remains to encounter Mr. D., my first Goodwill American. For me, he embodied all that is good about America, and I am thankful to have met him,” commented Nirja Kapoor, who’d immigrated from India shortly before becoming a student at Santa Monica College.
Most students still affectionately refer to Donaldson as “Mr. D.” Donaldson served as advisor to the Corsair, the SMC student newspaper, from 1973 to 1992.
Mark Sanchez, a former Corsair student editor who later served as San Francisco Board of Education president, described Donaldson’s dedication to each student’s success: “He sacrificed his time, his family life, and sleep for us. It was a time I will always appreciate and never forget.”
Former student Amanda Gaylor noted his “exhilarating” teaching style in a tribute. “Donaldson inspired us every day by describing how, in his two decades as a reporter, he got this story or that story. In retelling his stories to us, Donaldson continued to lead the rich life of a journalist. And his stories will live forever.”
Donaldson was himself a product of a junior college journalism program. He edited El Vaquero at Glendale College. After completing Glendale College’s journalism program, Donaldson landed his first newspaper job in 1953 at the twice-weekly Glendale Independent. Donaldson manned posts at another seven newspapers before taking a position at the Los Angeles Times.
Reflecting on his transition to teaching, Donaldson previously commented, “I was having a great time on the county beat and covering the Los Angeles college district when I started teaching Tuesday nights at Valley College. I discovered I enjoyed teaching.”
Donaldson joined the Santa Monica College faculty in 1973 after a colorful 20-year news writing and editing career. He brought his wealth of experience to the college during his distinguished teaching career.
Donaldson’s impact extended far beyond the classroom throughout his tenure at Santa Monica College. A two-time president of the college’s Academic Senate, he also devoted four years to the executive secretary role at the statewide Journalism Association of Community Colleges.
In recognition of his outstanding contributions, the 7,000-member Faculty Association of California Community Colleges named him “Faculty Member of the Year” in 1997, an accolade reflecting his commitment to excellence in education.
Donaldson’s dedication to education persisted until his retirement in 2004 at the age of 71. However, retirement did not signal the end of his active engagement with the community.
Post-retirement, Donaldson assumed the role of chairman of the Pico Improvement Organization, overseeing the transformation of the business improvement district that spanned all 34 blocks of Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica. Beyond this, his commitment to service was evident as he took on other leadership roles, serving as president of the Santa Monica Bay chapter of the California Retired Teachers Association, recording secretary and member of the board of directors for the Friends of Sunset Park, treasurer of the Santa Monica School Employees Federal Credit Union, and as a member of the Santa Monica Theater Guild.
Before moving to Santa Monica in 1993, he served three terms as congregation president at Calvary Lutheran Church in Arleta, California.
Donaldson’s legacy is one of journalistic integrity, academic excellence, and tireless service to the community he called home. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Phyllis, his daughter Ansley, his son Eric, and two grandchildren, Mazzy and Jaden.
A memorial will be held at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, 1343 Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, on Saturday, December 16, 2023, at 10:30 a.m.