Ed Donohoe begins writing his newspaper column "Tilting the Windmill" for The Washington Teamster in 1950.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 7/05/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7368
In 1950, Ed Donohoe (1918-1992) writes his first "Tilting the Windmill" column for the The Washington Teamster newspaper. Known for his acerbic wit, Donohoe uses the column to skewer politicians, sports personalities, and just about anyone else in the public eye. The column runs until Donohoe's retirement in 1984.

Donohoe got his start in the newspaper business delivering papers at the age of 14. He began sports writing at Seattle Preparatory School, and continued to do so at the University of Washington. While in college he was the campus correspondent for The Seattle Times, but eventually rubbed the editors the wrong way. He was also a publicist for Seattle University and took credit for changing its team names from the "Maroons" (often mocked as the "Morons") to the "Chieftains" (since changed to the Redhawks).

In 1941, Donohoe became an assistant editor for The Washington Teamster, but soon left for the Pacific where he fought in World War II as an infantry medical corpsman. While there he earned a Bronze Star for his efforts. He returned to Seattle and his old job at the age of 27.

Mightier Than the Sword

"Tilting the Windmill" began as a sports column but quickly turned into Donohoe's soapbox for whatever topic he caught his interest. His attacks were biting yet humorous, and soon The Washington Teamster was being read by people who normally wouldn't touch a labor newspaper.

Ralph Benjamin, the newspaper's editor, retired in 1956 and Donohoe took over his job, while also continuing to write "Tilting the Windmill." That year, a right-to-work initiative reached ballot, and editorials in The Washington Teamster rallied working people to work for its defeat. Donohoe later claimed that the campaign also led to the Republican loss of majorities in both houses of the State Legislature.

Naming Names

Over the years, no one was safe from Donohoe's jabs, and many were annointed with sarcastic nicknames in his columns. Senator Slade Gorton became "Slippery Slade"; Fire Chief Gordon Vickery became "Smokey the Bore"; Governor John Spellman became "Governor Spellbound"; and the League of Women Voters became "The League of Women Vultures."

Donohoe once said of former KIRO president Lloyd Cooney (1923-2013), "In a race with a test pattern, Cooney'd come in second." He credited Attorney General Ken Eikenberry with turning gibberish into a second language.

Sometimes Donohoe's victims would lash back. John Haydon, a Former Seattle Port Commissioner and then Governor of American Samoa, called Donohoe a smalltown clown, a malicious racist, and a bigot. KING-TV reporter John Lippman -- who was accused of inaccurate reporting -- wrote to Donohoe, conceding that one should "Never get into a farting contest with an asshole. But I will anyway. Not only are you sour, vindictive, and bankrupt, but you are dishonest ... Lots of luck on the way out, dinosaur."

Fun While it Lasted

Many people brushed aside Donohoe's remarks, realizing that the columnist had no sacred cows (outside of the Teamsters Union). Anyone was fair game. He would often skewer someone one day and have lunch with them the next. Every year, Donohoe would emcee a charity lunch for the Catholic Seaman's Club in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood, where he'd verbally barbecue every politician and celebrity in the audience and the community. These luncheons always sold out.

Donohoe was also committed to many causes. His in-depth knowledge of state history was a strong asset as a board member for the Washington Commission for the Humanities, and he rallied Teamster support for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center when the institution first began.

When Donohoe retired in 1984, so did his column, which he signed off by saying that it was fun while it lasted. A luncheon was held in his honor, attended by most of the movers and shakers in Seattle. Finally, they had a chance to roast him.


Sources: "Donohoe's Harpoon," The Seattle Weekly, February 19, 1987, pp. 28-31; "Ed Donohoe, Veteran Editor, Known For His Sharp Pen And Wit," The Seattle Times, November 26, 1992.

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