HAROLD “CHUCK” DONOFRIO
9/3/55 – 11/26/17
Harold Charles “Chuck” Donofrio, Jr., a well-known Baltimore advertising executive who embraced the internet and agency integration, died Sunday, November 26, 2017, following a long illness. He was 62.
Donofrio led the Baltimore agency Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc., formerly known as Richardson, Myers and Donofrio, an integrated marketing communications firm founded by his father, Hal Donofrio. But his leadership was cut short after a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
While leading the agency, Donofrio became known for his willingness to adapt and buck tradition. In the early 1990s, Richardson, Myers and Donofrio became one of the first agencies in the mid-Atlantic to embrace the internet. He also moved to make his agency more integrated, combining departments to work for clients, rather than keeping sections like creative and accounts separate. At Richardson, Myers and Donofrio, public relations managers worked side-by-side with creative and account managers. The agency’s client list included several of Baltimore’s largest institutions, including T. Rowe Price, BGE, Sylvan Learning Centers, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, the University of Maryland, Black & Decker, Visit Baltimore and the National Aquarium. But Donofrio’s legacy might be what he meant to his employees as a leader and a mentor. He was not driven by his ego or greed, he was driven by intellectual curiosity and substance, which is very rare these days. That type of leadership is what attracted so many people to come to be a part of his team.
Donofrio was CEO of the agency for 17 years before stepping down in 2010 due to his ongoing battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Three years later, the firm shuttered, in part due to Donofrio’s absence.
While dealing with his diagnosis, Donofrio blogged about his experiences. It allowed him to indulge one of his preferred activities, poetry. He was a published poet, and his blog took on a poetic tone at times. Donofrio was also an avid outdoorsman and birder. He was known for carrying his binoculars with him everywhere, and often a pair of hiking boots as well. He allowed these other aspects of his personality to intermingle with his professional life, to a point where he encouraged the blurring of those lines.
One of the most important lessons that Chuck taught is allowing the line between your personal life and your professional life to blur. It seemed impossible to tell where that line was for Chuck.
One of his proudest moments was bringing the National Aquarium on as a client, an area where he could combine his love of the outdoors and his work.
The pitch also demonstrated who Donofrio was as a leader. After hearing that his team had won the aquarium’s business, he wanted to let all the team members know before he informed the entire agency. Things like that are what made him the kind of person you want to work for, because I felt appreciated.
He also brought to the office the atmosphere not of the egoist advertising executive but more of the curious college professor. He was driven by intellectual curiosity and he loved work that involved complexity and problem-solving.
For those that really knew him, that’s what made his diagnosis 13 years ago so tragic. For someone who was always intellectually curious and valued his mind over anything, to have to face early-onset Alzheimer’s at such a young age was really very tragic.
Donofrio is survived by his wife, Deb, and his three daughters.
Check out his blog at “Early Onset Alzheimer’s Adventure.”
His final post, on April 21, 2011, was an ode to the outdoors and to life:
Free at last
As my spiritual guide, the Dr. Martin Luther King, has so profoundly said: Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty, I'm free at last. Burst from the chains that have bound me, I look around at this marvel of creation and my heart swells with awe. Put another way, Spring is sprung, and the peepers are peeping, returning song birds are singing, the dogwood blossoms are open and ready for love. Today, the first Hummingbird arrived, just as the feeders went up, and the nectar is now officially flowing. The dogs of winter have been washed in the new water of mud and exuberance. The red buds have done it again, and the floods have been quelled for now. The wood-peckers are pounding away on the soft wood of rotten cavities, making way for eggs and the season of avian romance is coming close. Can the warblers be far behind?