Sam Donaldson Biography

Samuel Andrew Donaldson Jr., better known as Sam Donaldson, is a former American reporter and news anchor who was associated with ‘ABC News’ for over four decades. He gained recognition as ‘ABC’s ‘White House’ correspondent’ and later became a panelist and co-anchor of the network’s Sunday program ‘This Week.’ Throughout his career, Donaldson covered significant events such as the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the impeachment of President Clinton. His exceptional journalism skills earned him numerous prestigious awards, including the ‘Edward R Murrow Award’ and multiple Emmy and Peabody Awards.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Samuel Andrew Donaldson Jr
  • Age: 89 Years, 89 Year Old Males
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Billie Kay Butler (m. 1963–1980), Jan Smith (m. 1983–2014), Patricia Oates (m. 1954–1963)
    • Father: Samuel Donaldson
    • Mother: Chloe (née Hampson)
    • Children: Jennifer Donaldson, Robert Donaldson, Samuel Donaldson III, Thomas Donaldson
  • Born Country: United States
  • TV Anchors
  • Journalists
  • Notable Alumni: University Of Texas At El Paso
  • City: El Paso, Texas
  • U.S. State: Texas
  • More Facts
  • Education: University of Texas at El Paso

Childhood & Early Life

Sam Donaldson was born on March 11, 1934, in El Paso, Texas. His mother, Chloe, was a school teacher, and his father, Samuel Donald, was a farmer. He was raised on their family farm in Chamberino, New Mexico.

Donaldson attended the ‘New Mexico Military Institute’ and the ‘Texas Western College,’ now known as the ‘University of Texas at El Paso.’ At college, he worked as a station manager of ‘KTEP,’ the campus radio station.

From 1956–1959, Donaldson served as an artillery officer in the ‘US Army.’ During his stint with the army, he was one of the observers of an atomic test in Nevada and had witnessed the detonation of an atomic device equivalent to the ones dropped on Japan.

Donaldson left military service to join ‘KRLD-TV’ (now ‘KDFW-TV’) in Dallas, Texas. He resigned after a year and moved to New York City to look for job in broadcast news. However, failed to get one.


In 1961, Donaldson was hired by ‘WTOP-TV’ (now ‘WUSA-TV’) in Washington, DC. During his 6-year tenure, he covered stories such as the Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964, the Senate debates on the civil rights bill in 1964, and the ‘Medicare’ bill in 1965. He also co-anchored the network’s 6 pm weather forecasts with John Douglas.

In 1967, Donaldson was hired by ‘ABC News’ as their Washington correspondent. He was in charge of covering two major party conventions in 1968. He also began anchoring the network’s weekend 11 pm newscasts in 1969.

In 1971, Donaldson received a major break when he was put in charge of the coverage of the ‘Vietnam War’ for ‘ABC News.’

In 1976, Donaldson covered Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. The following year, he was promoted to the position of ‘ABC’s ‘White House’ correspondent. He held the post until 1989.

Donaldson anchored the ‘ABC Sunday Evening News’ since its inception in 1979. He held this post until 1989.

Donaldson appeared as a panelist on the Sunday morning TV program ‘This Week with David Brinkley’ since its inception in 1981. After Brinkley’s retirement in 1996, Donaldson co-anchored with Cokie Roberts. He continued in this role till 2002. However, he still occasionally appears as a panelist on ‘This Week.’

In 1989, Donaldson started co-anchoring ‘ABC’s magazine program ‘Primetime Live’ with Diane Sawyer. One of his famous reports during this tenure was his interview with a ‘Nazi Gestapo’ officer named Erich Priebk, who had been hiding in Argentina since the end of World War II. Following this report, the officer was apprehended and extradited to Italy, where he had executed 335 Italians under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler. Donaldson continued in this role till 1999.

In 1990–1991, Donaldson covered the ‘First Persian Gulf War.’ He co-anchored ‘Primetime Live’ from Kuwait City 2 days after the Iraqi troops had been expelled.

In 1992, Donaldson and his producer, David Kaplan, went to Sarajevo on an assignment. Kaplan was shot dead, and Donaldson reported the death while co-anchoring ‘Primetime Live.’

In 1997, Donaldson was reassigned as ‘ABC’s chief correspondent for the ‘White House.’ He held this post till 1999. During this period, he covered the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment of President Clinton.

In 2002, Donaldson anchored the first regularly scheduled US news broadcast on the internet.

In 2004, Donaldson anchored the show ‘Politics Live’ on ‘ABC News Now.’ He continued anchoring the show till 2009.

In his long career from 1964 to 2012, Donaldson has covered almost every major party convention. He retired from ‘ABC News’ in 2013.

Awards & Achievements

In 1997, Donaldson received the ‘Edward R Murrow Award’ from the ‘Washington State University’ for his achievements in broadcast and digital journalism.

In 2008, Donaldson received the ‘Paul White Award’ from the ‘Radio Television Digital News Association’ for his lifetime contribution to electronic journalism.

In 2000, Donaldson received the ‘DuPont Award’ from ‘Columbia University’ for his excellence in broadcast and digital journalism.

In 2019, Donaldson became an ‘Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters’ of the ‘University of New Mexico.’

Controversies & Scandals

In 1995, Donaldson was accused by a fellow journalist of being one of the wealthy absentee beneficiaries of federal subsidies. It was rumored that he had received a million dollars in subsidies on a farm, from which he was largely absent.

In 1996, animal rights activists accused Donaldson of using federal resources to kill prairie dogs, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes on his ranch. This came to light when he asked for more federal money to pay for the loss of his sheep to predators. He, however, continued to defend his position as a rightful ranch owner entitled to federal benefits.

Major Works

In 1987, Donaldson published his memoir, ‘Hold On, Mr. President!’ It was published by ‘Random House,’ a publishing company based in New York City.

Family & Personal Life

Donaldson has married four times. He was married to Patricia Oates from 1954 to 1962, to Billie Kay Butler from 1963 to 1980, and to Janice C Smith from 1983 to 2014. He got married to Sandra Martorelli in 2014, and they are still together. He has four children from his previous marriages: Samuel III, Jennifer, Thomas, and Robert Donaldson.

In 1995, a melanoma was removed from his lymph node. Since then, Donaldson is an active supporter of cancer research.

He currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but runs a family cattle ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico.

Donaldson is currently a member of the ‘Board of New Mexico First,’ the state’s bi-partisan booster organization, and the ‘Ford Theatre Advisory Council.’


One of Donaldson’s most popular questions came during his tenure at the ‘White House’ during the Regan administration. He asked, “Mr. President, in talking about the continuing recession tonight, you have blamed mistakes of the past, and you have blamed the congress. Does any of the blame belong to you?” To this, Reagan sharply replied, “Yes, because for many years I was a Democrat!”

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