Donald H. Fey, 82, fund-raising writer

Posted: October 27, 2015

WHEN TINA FEY won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2010, copies of Twain's massive door-stopping autobiography were distributed.

From the stage of the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, Tina said, "If there is anyone in this room who will read this book, it's my father."

There was no doubt that her father, Donald, would read the Twain book, not the least put off by its 700-plus pages, because he was a voracious reader who couldn't seem to get enough of the printed page.

Not only did he read everything, but he himself contributed richly to the world's consumption of print with novels and poetry and, his special forte, fundraising literature.

We say literature because Donald Fey was such a master of this little-heralded skill that he was said to have helped raise more than $500 million for numerous nonprofit institutions and agencies over the years.

And he wrote a book about it: The Complete Book of Fund-Raising Writing.

Donald H. Fey, an Army veteran of the Korean War; a man of many talents - writer, painter, poet; a former Philadelphia firefighter, serving on a rescue wagon in the late '50s and early '60s before he went off to college; a lecturer at local colleges on the art of fundraising writing; and a devoted family man, died Oct. 18 of heart failure. He was 82 and lived in Drexel Hill.

Donald had a wide knowledge of many aspects of art and life.

"He would take us to museums and tell us about the exhibits," said his son, Peter B. Fey. "Then he'd take us to a Marx Brothers double feature. He was open to all things.

"He had a voracious quest for knowledge. He would be reading five books at once.

"He was such a creative person. He would go on creative jags. I remember once when he wrote a crime novel. After he finished it, I asked him if he was going to write another one. He said, 'No, I'm painting now.' "

In his retirement years, Donald wrote three more full-length novels. So, they weren't published. It wasn't his fault.

He also wrote poetry. He made no effort to get the poems published but would bind them together and pass them out to family and friends. Two of his poems were read at his funeral service.

Donald enjoyed painting, working in both watercolor and oil, doing landscapes and portraits. An exhibition of his work at a local church sold out.

"He would visit foreign countries and bring back photos that he used to paint landscapes," Peter said.

"I remember being 5 or 6 and sitting on his lap in the basement art studio while he taught me about watercolor painting," Tina Fey said. "I helped him do 'color studies,' where you see what you get mixing cadmium yellow and cerulean blue. That sort of thing."

Tina also recalled her dad's guidance in coping with the anxiety she and others felt in New York after the 9/11 attacks. She was doing Saturday Night Live at the time.

"I thought my parents would tell me to come home to Philadelphia till things got safer," she said. "Maybe I was hoping they would tell me that. But, instead, my Dad invoked Churchill and said how important it was for everyone in New York to carry on like Londoners did during WWII. So I stayed."

Then there was the Bobby Clarke portrait her father did and hung inside the front door. "I think it very accurately let any visitors know what our family priorities were at that time - hockey, art, not caring what people thought," Tina said.

Humor seemed to run in the Fey family. Peter recalled that the family home, a twin in Upper Darby, was a gathering place for family and friends.

"They would be playing cards," Peter said. "There would be constant laughter."

Peter said his father had a rich sense of humor, but it was his mother who had the "incisive wit."

Donald Fey had a knack for languages. He taught himself Italian and enough modern Greek to get by. His wife, the former Jeanne Xenakes, is of Greek heritage, and they traveled frequently to Greece, as well as Italy, England and other tourist destinations.

Once, when Donald was in a hospital, a doctor said to him, "Mr. Fey, I read your fundraising book and got a $30,000 grant out of it."

Donald was born in Philadelphia to Henry Fey and the former Mildred Ritchie. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School.

He enlisted in the Army in 1952 and was assigned to the 501st Communications Reconnaissance Battalion, in Seoul, Korea. He analyzed, decoded and translated intercepted radio messages of the North Korean army.

He designed the unit's insignia, an image of Sylvester the Cat looking down on South Korea. He was promoted to sergeant in 1954, and was discharged with the rank of SP2 in 1955.

Donald joined the Fire Department after his discharge and served until the early '60s, when he left to attend Temple University on the GI Bill. He also studied at Franklin & Marshall College and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Donald joined Business Week as an editor, then went to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was senior development writer and science news officer. In 1992, he retired from Thomas Jefferson University, where he was director of development communications.

He was on demand as a specialist in fundraising writing, and lectured at Penn, Jefferson, Villanova University, Swarthmore College and Rowan University. He also talked to nonprofit organizations about writing.

He and his wife were married in 1961. Besides his wife, son and daughter, he is survived by a sister, Janet Schenzle; two brothers, Karl and Henry; and three grandchildren.

Services: Private services were held Friday.

Donations may be made to the Donald H. Fey Scholarship, created to support returning veterans enrolled in Temple University's School of Media & Journalism, Department of Journalism, Temple University, P.O. Box 827651, Philadelphia, 19182-7651.

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