Robert J. Donovan, longtime Washington journo and author of “PT 109,” which later became the popular feature film starring Cliff Robertson, died Friday Aug. 8 in St. Petersburg, Fla., from complications of a stroke suffered Aug. 2. He was 90.
Donovan led D.C. coverage for the L.A. Times, and before that the N.Y. Herald Tribune. Of the 13 books he wrote, several became bestsellers, particularly 1961’s “PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II,” about the president’s heroism as a naval officer when his patrol boat sank during a battle in the Pacific. Book was published in 1961 and was made into the film two years later.
Unable to afford college during the Depression, Buffalo, N.Y., native instead got a job as a newspaper copy boy at the Buffalo Courier Express, later becoming a reporter there before moving on to the New York Herald Tribune. During WWII, he served in the Army, where he rose to sergeant and took part in the Battle of the Bulge. He also served briefly with Stars and Stripes in Paris.
Later, he was a journalism professor at Princeton U., a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Intl. Center for Scholars and a senior fellow of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and Intl. Affairs, also at Princeton.
Survivors include wife Gerry Van der Heuvel and three children.
Donations can be made to the Harry S. Truman Library Institute, 500 W. U.S. Highway 24, Independence, MO 64050.