He may be retired, but former newspaper editor and columnist Don Chapman has a new story to tell about his determined battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Venerable journalist Don Chapman, who recently retired following an illustrious five-decades-long newsprint career, believes he was born to write. As a young boy growing up in Salem, Oregon, he was an avid reader, who by the fourth grade was already scanning the daily Statesman as part of his morning routine.
Fast forward to today, and the award-winning writer, who turned 74 earlier this week, has a new story to tell — living with Parkinson’s Disease.
He received the diagnosis just prior to the pandemic, which unintentionally allowed him to “hide it from the world.” But he was well aware of the symptoms — “the shakes, you can hear my voice isn’t the old voice, and an awkward walk.”
Despite the challenges, Chapman remains optimistic.
“There is evidence that physical activity is the best thing you can do to fight Parkinson’s,” he says. “I started shadow boxing. I also juggle a bean bag and bounce a tennis ball. I’ve got a stationary bike that I do, a couple of light weights.
“The hardest thing about this is I used to be an actual athlete. I played college baseball for two years, and in my high school senior year I was voted co-best boy dancer. So, I was pretty decent at controlling my body’s movements. Parkinson’s steals that ability, and that’s the frustration.”
A naturally easy-going person, Chapman also practices positive thinking — something he’s done all his life. He recalls his days coaching a T-ball team in Kāhala in 1982, and as the players came in to bat in the last inning of one of their games, he told them, “OK, guys, let’s go. We’re only down by 12!” At the end of the season, the parents, who were quite amused by that pep talk, gifted him a wooden sign quoting his words of encouragement.
“I still have the sign, and that philosophy continues to guide my outlook on life,” shares Chapman. “It’s also one of the things I got from the Dalai Lama (who he interviewed for a MidWeek cover story in 2012) — that we’re all responsible for our own happiness.”
You can also bet that the die-hard University of Oregon fan is enjoying his well-deserved retirement by watching the Ducks, along with his other favorite teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Giants, on TV.
As for writing, he says he’s written everything that he needs to pen, including his life story for his two grown children — son Kai and daughter Dawn Luat.
Chapman was a longtime columnist for The Honolulu Advertiser, editor of Mid-Week, and most recently editor of Building Management Hawai‘i magazine.
“This is the only thing I’ve been good at my whole life,” says Chapman. “I tried all kinds of other jobs and professions and either I didn’t like it or they didn’t like me. Journalism, however, I’ve never had a bad job. I’m not certain there’s such a thing.”
From associate editor of his high school and college papers — The Piper at McNary High in Salem and The Cavalier at Concordia College in Portland — to sports editor for the Daily Emerald student newspaper at University of Oregon, assignments for UPI and Springfield News, and then jobs at East-Oregonian and The Mercury News (in San Jose), Chapman got on his career path early. But he never dreamed it would take him to the Aloha State.
The year was 1979, and a colleague told him about a job posting for The Honolulu Advertiser, which was looking for a columnist in sports and for a daily three-dot column.
“The ad included a cartoon by legendary editorial cartoonist Harry Lyons, depicting a guy wearing aloha shirt, shorts and straw hat sitting under a coconut tree at the beach with a typewriter on his lap, a mai tai in one hand, and a hula dancer in the background,” remembers Chap-man, who applied for both positions. “Buck Buchwach, the Advertiser’s senior editor, said my application was the 300th of 300 received. I got the dot-dot-dot job.”
Initially, he thought he would be in Hawai‘i for just a few years and then return to the West Coast, but he ended up staying at The Honolulu Advertiser for 13 years, covering everything from politics and sports to entertainment to the talk of the town.
“I married a local girl and had two kids who are part Hawaiian and then I got custody (becoming a single dad) and I couldn’t move them off this island,” he explains. “Plus, I got pretty attached.”
In 1994, Chapman joined MidWeek, proudly serving as editor for 22 years. Under his leadership, the weekly publication grew from a “little shopper to a credible news magazine, featuring local and national columnists with (political) opinions from both the right and left.”
He wrote many of the widely read cover stories, including some that turned into books. They include books about Mauna ‘Ala, the Royal Mausoleum (which earned him a Society of Professional Journalists award), and on Larry Mehau titled The Good Father. He also was awarded Sports Story of the Year from SPJ in 2009 for his coverage of The Eddie.
“One of the things of which I’m most proud is the quality of people I was able to bring into this profession I love so much,” he says. “It takes a special kind of person with diverse skills to be a professional journalist, and if I was good at anything it was identifying those people, and hopefully mentoring and encouraging them along the way.”
In addition to making his mark in the journalism industry, Chapman has also had a positive impact in the community. He was a volunteer adviser to the student newspaper at Moanalua High School, honorary chair for a fundraiser dinner for Helemano Plantation in 2004; and served on the board of directors for the Hawai‘i Judiciary McGruff Committee, the Hawai‘i Cystic Fibros is Foundation and Kalihi-Pālama Health Center.
When his daughter was looking to join a volleyball club team but there were none in his Windward neighborhood, Chapman posted a notice in a community newspaper about a volleyball organizational meeting at Kailua District Park, and hundreds showed up and signed up.
“There’s a quote … people may or may not remember what you say, people may or may not remember what you do, but people will always remember how you made them feel,” says Chapman.
“I hope over the years, people I’ve worked with — both people on staff and people I’ve covered, I’ve left them feeling good … feeling they’d been treated fairly, positively and professionally.”