Roy Ketner McDonald distinguished himself as a Tennessee publisher by turning a weekly advertising circular into the largest newspaper in Chattanooga.
McDonald began publishing and distributing a weekly in 1933 to promote grocery specials at his Home Stores. The circular also contained some feature articles and eventually became a daily newspaper. The Chattanooga Free Press later became the largest newspaper in Chattanooga.
McDonald was born Nov. 25, 1901, in Graysville, Tenn., and became well known as a businessman and civic leader before entering the newspaper industry full time.
"Mr. Roy," as he was known to close friends and employees, graduated from Chattanooga's Central High School and attended Georgia Tech for one year. He left college to assume management of his father's grocery stores in Columbia, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.
From there he moved to Knoxville, the home office of his father's grocery store chain. Then in 1924 he went to Chattanooga to open his first Home Store. The stores eventually numbered about 10 throughout Chattanooga and the surrounding area.
The circular gradually increased in size and content and eventually added news to the mix. It was still "free," and that, along with "freedom of the press," provided the basis for the dual meaning of the name of the newspaper. On Aug.31, 1936, the Free Press became a daily.
In December of 1939, McDonald bought the other local afternoon paper, the Chattanooga News (founded in 1888), and combined it with the Free Press. Eventually the Chattanooga News-Free Press became the city's largest newspaper.
The News-Free Press and the Chattanooga Times formed a joint publishing agreement in 1942, and the newspapers occupied the same building until Aug. 27, 1966. The two newspapers canceled their joint publishing agreement in 1966, making them the first American newspapers in history to do so.
The News-Free Press moved and continued as an afternoon daily and after 24 years resumed its Sunday edition. In 1969 McDonald sold his Home Stores to Mulkey and Jackson, another grocery store chain, and became more involved in the publication of his newspaper. This endeavor became his major interest for the rest of his life.
While McDonald was busy in the newspaper and business world, he also found time for several civic offices and other duties. He served as a member and chairman of the board of directors of Baroness Erlanger and T. C. Thompson Children's Hospital for more than 20 years. While heading the Erlanger board, McDonald set up the Erlanger Plan for prepaid hospitalization that was later expanded to become Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Tennessee. Until his death he was the only chairman of the board for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Tennessee. He was an active booster of the University of Chattanooga, and was instrumental in building the Vine Street Stadium and the athletic dormitory facility.
He was also benevolent with his resources. During the Depression, he anonymously donated untold amounts of bread from his bakery and milk from his dairy to a soup line in the city.
McDonald was not one to sit behind a desk during his 12-hour days at the newspaper. He spent time in the newsroom, composing room, circulation department, pressroom and all other areas of the newspaper. He continued to work daily until he died at age 88 on June 19, 1990.