Don W. Reynolds

Donald Worthington Reynolds was not a native of Fort Smith, but the sometime resident of the city was a part of it nevertheless as the owner of the Fort Smith Times Record and Southwest American newspapers for more than 50 years.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation established by him also has contributed significantly to local philanthropic building projects and charities. The Reynolds bell tower on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith stands in 2007 as a great example of the foundation's generosity.

Reynolds was born on Sept. 23, 1906, in Fort Worth, Texas. Not long afterward, his family moved to Oklahoma City where he graduated high school. During his school years, Reynolds worked as a newsboy. His father, Gaines, was a door-to-door salesman and he often stayed with him in rundown hotels as he sold groceries from town to town. In 1923, he enrolled in the journalism program at the University of Missouri at Columbia and was business manager of the university's yearbook.

Courtesy of Ben Boulden

Donald W. Reynolds owned and published the Times Record and Southwest American newspapers in Fort Smith from 1940 until his death in 1993. At the time of this photo, probably circa 1950, Reynolds still was building and growing the Donrey Media Group. In addition to the newspapers, Reynolds headquartered his company in Fort Smith, started the first local television station and operated an outdoor advertising (billboard) company from Fort Smith.

His jobs at several newspapers after college didn't last long. After getting fired for the second time and hired by the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas, Reynolds resolved never to get fired again. Sometimes putting in 18-hour work days, he sold ads, did graphic design and reported news. Borrowing money from a "local loan shark," he made his first business investment in a photo engraving plant in Austin. The first newspaper which he bought was the Evening News in Quincy, Massachusetts and sold it two years later after a merger with another local paper there. In March 1940, he purchased the Times Record and American. Along with Wichita Falls Post whice he had bought two months earlier, Reynolds created the nucleus of Donrey Media Group.

Bill Wright, who retired in 1981 from the Donrey-owned Las Vegas Review-Journal, said in Forbes in 1986 that "Reynolds couldn't care less what's in his 54 dailies today, but it's his low commitment to editorial quality that has enabled him to operate so profitably." The Forbes feature continued on to point out that Reynolds newspapers did provide good opportunities to new journalism graduates and almost never laid off employees.

By 1986, the media group's properties total value has reached almost $1 billion, the magazine estimated. Reynolds preferred to buy newspapers in small to medium-sized markets were competition was more limited than major metropolitan areas. In that way, his business strategy foreshadowed that of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart who first grew his discount retail empire by locating his stores in rural areas and underserved markets.

"He gets what he wants by trimming costs, fighting unions, keeping his total borrowings below his annual cash flow and maintaining a lean central staff," Forbes said. Newspapers and other properties reported earnings to the media group's headquarters in Fort Smith "where wages are cheaper," Reynolds said in 1986.

Reynolds died at 86 on April 2, 1993, on a yacht bound for Barcelona. Not long after his death the media group was sold to the Stephens family of Little Rock. At his death, he was survived by three children: a daughter — Nancy Reynolds and two sons — Jonathan and Donald.

Sources: "Donrey founder dead at 86; Media pioneer Reynolds succumbs while on cruise," Southwest Times Record, 1A, 6A; Behar, Richard, "Profiles: Games Others Play," Forbes, Volume 137, No. 11, pp. 144-145, 148, 151; "Don Reynolds: The Man Behind A Media Empire," Oklahoma Business, Volume 15, No. 7, pp. 11-13, 15-17.
From Forbes Magazine

At his death about seven years after this photo was taken, Reynolds and his company's properties probably were worth more than a billion dollars. Most of his wealth went to the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation which has contributed to many local nonprofits.

Photographer: George Steinmetz