'What a life he lived': Late Kent journalist active in career, community

Donald S. Connery

Donald S. Connery

Contributed photo

KENT — Donald S. Connery was a journalist who covered generations of national and international news, but also a local resident who cared deeply about land preservation and criminal justice, those who knew him said.

Connery died in January at the age of 94 due to complications caused by pneumonia.

He was a “widely traveled foreign correspondent” during the “golden age of journalism,” as well as a “noted author and advocate for criminal justice reform,” according to the Kenny Funeral Home in Sharon.

He was also deeply involved in Kent, helping to found the Kent Land Trust and worked with the Kent Memorial Library, according to the funeral home.

“Donald Connery was one of the Kent Land Trust’s founders and remained active and dedicated to the organization for over 30 years on our board of directors and later the Advisory Board,” Kent Land Trust Board Chairman Michael Hallows said.

“He possessed remarkable energy and foresight in creating the Land Trust, and his keen insight and enthusiasm were instrumental to our growth over the years,” Hallows said. “Don and his wife, Leslie, further demonstrated their commitment to conservation by protecting their own land through the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, and by improving their property to provide excellent habitat for local birds and other wildlife.”

In elaborating on Connery’s personal commitment to the Land Trust and Kent, KLT Board member Wendy Murphy added, “Moving to Kent in the 1960s after years of living abroad as an international journalist, Don published ‘One American Town, A Relic of the Past — a Model for the Future.’ In this love letter to Kent he celebrated the ‘sheer humanity ... kindness ... quirkiness of its people, so evocative of the pioneer spirit ... and too precious to be taken for granted.’”

Kent First Selectman Jean Speck and her family are personal friends of the Connerys. She recalled visits to the Connery home where she found the journalist and author cordial and a most interesting person to be around, she said.

“We would go to the Connerys and Donald would ask the kids if they wanted to go and feed the horses. Don was a fascinating person and you knew he had a most fabulous career. He was a wonderful person to be around and unassuming,” she said.

Speck added Connery loved Kent “and the Northwest Corner very much.”

Sarah Marshall, director of the Kent Memorial Library, said the library was “lucky” to have Don Connery in Kent for so many years.

“His work documenting and advocating for criminal justice made a real impact in people's lives. As a neighbor and a friend, he was always the most interesting person in the room. What a life he lived,” Marshall said. “The library will miss him, as will the whole town.”

Connery’s professional life took an “unusual turn” in 1973, according to his obituary, when his daughter’s high school classmate confessed to slaying his mother.

The teenager’s exoneration, documented by Connery in his book, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” marked the beginning of his four-decade nationwide involvement in working to overturn wrongful conviction cases, according to the obituary.

Additionally, Connery obituary said his work led to greater awareness of the magnitude of unjust convictions.

Connery served as an adviser to the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the National Center for Reason and Justice.

Bob Chatelle, executive director and a founder of the National Center for Justice and Reason, met Connery in 1997 and maintained a professional and personal friendship with him over the years, according to Chatelle.

“Don was so approachable. He was a great guy with an enormous heart and dedication to whatever he was doing,” Chatelle said.

Chatelle, who lives in Boston, said Connery just didn’t “lend his name” to the NCJR as an adviser, he took the role very seriously. “Bob ... actually came to our board meetings. I’ll miss him, and our organization will certainly miss him. The last time I talked to him was in November of last year. He had just finished a book and was about to start his next one. And this was at 94 years of age. He led a remarkable life and knew so many amazing people.”

Early years

According to Connery’s obituary, he was born on Feb. 9, 1926, was raised in New York City, and served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific during World War II. In 1946, he covered the Philippines’ independence ceremonies in Manila for the Armed Forces Radio Service, and the first United Nations General Assembly in New York for the United Press. While at Harvard University on the G.I. Bill from 1947 to 50, he broadcast for Boston’s World Radio University. After marrying his college love, Leslie Guy, he returned briefly to UP and covered U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy at the start of his “Red Scare” campaign, and then as assistant director of Harvard’s News Office until joining Time Inc. in 1951.

From 1957 to 1965, he was a Time Inc. bureau chief and foreign correspondent for Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated.

He lived in New Delhi, India Tokyo, Japan and London, England. He reported everyday life as well as covered presidential campaigns, the rise of postwar Japan and South Korea, military coups in Asia, revolutions in colonial Africa, civil wars in Ireland and Cyprus, the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet, and events of the U.S.-USSR rivalry, according to Connery’s obituary.

A memorial service to celebrate Connery’s life is planned for early summer.