Donald Ward King, age 87, passed away peacefully in his sleep, Sunday, November 17, 2019, in Madison, South Dakota, with family at his side, a few weeks after being diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. A memorial service celebrating Don’s life and contributions will be held at the Dakota Prairie Playhouse on Dakota State University’s campus on Tuesday, December 10th at 1:30 p.m. An opportunity to visit with Don’s friends and family to pay respects will be held immediately after the service, also in the Playhouse.
Don was born during the Great Depression on July 18, 1932, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, one of five sons born to James Arnold King and Mary Elizabeth (Ward) King. The family was part of the enterprising, hard-working F.S. King Ranch sheep-breeding operation in Laramie and Albany counties, Wyoming. The ranch was internationally famous for its high-quality sheep breeding stock. Their animals were shipped to ranches across the globe, forming the foundation of many of the finest sheep herds around the world.
Don’s father went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a statistician for the Agricultural Statistics Board (now the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)), moving the family to Iowa, where Don spent much of his childhood. His father and brothers were avid hunters, and many years traveled to South Dakota for the pheasant hunting season. Don had many happy memories of these hunting expeditions, and always spoke glowingly of the beautiful South Dakota plains and big skies. His family frequently returned Wyoming for family gatherings and vacations. A few years ago, Don and his wife were able to embark on a driving tour of Wyoming, happily seeing and reconnecting with many relatives and friends from earlier years of his life.
Don contracted polio as a child, while his family was living in Ames, Iowa. He was admitted to a Sister Kenny hospital clinic in Des Moines, Iowa for treatment. Sister Kenny clinics used what was, at the time, a controversial and revolutionary approach to polio treatment, opting for hot packs and gentle movement of paralyzed limbs instead of the splints, braces, and iron lungs in general use at the time for treating the disease. Don responded well to the Sister Kenny treatment, and after some months was able to return home with little residual effect. He went on to become an accomplished four-sport athlete in high school, and a two-sport athlete (basketball and track) in college, as well as a highly skilled jet pilot and flying instructor.
Don enrolled at the University of Wyoming to begin his undergraduate degree, but after two years took a break to enlist in the Marines to become a pilot. For the Marines, Don flew the WWII Hellcat planes but he wanted to fly the more powerful Navy jets. He became highly skilled and accomplished flying Grumman F9F-5 and F3D jets on and off Navy aircraft carriers stationed in the ocean. He was scheduled to be deployed to Korea when one of the many truces took effect and the Navy assigned him instead as a flight instructor, relocating him to Beeville, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. As a flight trainer, Don ended up with the nickname of “Santa Claus” because trainees considered it a gift to get him as their instructor. Soon the Navy was sending Don all those students who were having difficulties obtaining the high level of skills needed for aircraft carrier piloting. Many later credited Don’s patience, unflappable calmness, and positive approach during their training as the key to becoming able to serve their country as accomplished Navy, and often later as commercial airline, pilots. Don was recognized as such a skillful pilot that he was recruited for a precision flight team to fly in air shows, where multiple jets flew in impressively close formations, swooping and darting through the sky in highly choreographed sequences requiring remarkable skill and focus. After discharge from active duty, Don served in the Marine Air Reserves for two years flying the F9F-6 and F9F-6 Cougar. Overall, Don logged almost 2,000 hours of flying time.
After his military service, Don returned to the University of Wyoming, completing his B.S. in 1959 and his M.S. in 1960, both in statistics. Following his academic work, he was tapped by one of his professors, Ed Bryant, along with another master’s student, Jim Daley, to co-found Western Statistics, Inc., eventually known as Westat, Inc. Westat became and is still today one of the world’s leading private-sector statistical survey research organizations. Today the corporation is a half-billion-dollar operation with over 2,000 employees in 9 regional U.S. offices and 6 countries overseas, with three additional subsidiary companies.
After Westat, Inc. was acquired, for a period of several years Don served as a high-level executive in a series of connected companies, eventually leaving to start his own company, King Research, Inc. His company achieved prominence for information systems evaluations and return-on-investment studies, especially of federal and state government and non-profit organizations, including public libraries and state-wide library systems. In 1992, Don retired from the business world to concentrate on writing, lecturing and service, working extensively pro bono with Carol Tenopir from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Don’s expertise was in demand around the world. He led projects, consulted, and made presentations in over 26 countries (multiple times). Don was a prolific writer, including authoring or co-authoring 15 books, editing five books, publishing 75 refereed journal articles and over 200 technical reports. He is nationally recognized as one of the ten most cited authors in the information sciences field. The American Statistical Association (ASA), the main professional organization for statisticians and related professionals in the United States, awarded Don their highest honor, recognizing him as an ASA Fellow who “made outstanding contributions to statistical science.” Interestingly, Don’s father had previously been recognized with the same award, making Don and his father the first father/son ASA Fellows in the organization’s more than 150-year history.
In 2016, The University of Wyoming bestowed on Don an honorary doctoral degree, noting his contributions as a world-renowned statistician and information science pioneer. As they stated, “Through his career he has led ground-breaking research studies with results that have transformed both the quantitative measures, models, and evaluation methods used in information science and informatics as well as the practices of the organizations that benefitted from the results of those studies. Long before “big data” was even a theoretical concept, King was leading international, national, state, and local studies on the economic analysis of information systems for government organizations as well as for business and industry. He is recognized for having established the definitions and parameters of return-on-investment and economies-of-scale potentials of resources, costs, and materials flows for scientific as well as public and corporate information systems. This included pioneering work in the pricing of information systems and the costs and benefits of U.S. copyright and intellectual property law.”
Vernon Palmour, of Cody, Wyoming, former senior vice president with King Research Inc. said of Don, “I am confident in saying that no other individual has contributed as much across all lines of government and private information clearinghouses, depositories, special libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, and public and private databases, as Don King.”
Don was recognized with a long list of additional awards during his lifetime, including the Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Wyoming, Career Achievement Award, from the Association of Research Libraries; D-Lib Magazine as one of the most cited authors in its publications; “Pioneer of Science Information” from the Chemical Heritage Foundation; Honorary Fellow from the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services; Special Recognition from the Special Libraries Association; Distinguished Lecturer by the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST); and the Watson-Davis Award, Research Award and Award of Merit (the Society’s highest honor) from the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Don’s work continues to be the underpinning for large portions of 21st century information science and analytics research and application, as the concepts and conclusions he documented have proven to be both prophetic and foundational for the Information Age of the 21st century.
Don had seven daughters; one proceeded him in death as an infant. When speaking at the funeral of his first wife, Martha (Thompson “Tommie”) King, Don noted that they were never allowed to hold that daughter, whom they had named Amy. It was apparently clear from birth that she would not survive, and the hospital nuns felt it would be too painful for them to hold her, bond with her, and then suffer her loss. Don commented that he was grateful that Tommie would finally be able to see and hold Amy in heaven. Now Don is able to do so as well.
Don greatly enjoyed his family life, especially his daughters and their individual personalities, interests, skills, and life paths. The daughters all share the happy memory of how every morning Don would wake them up for school or their day’s activities by coming into their rooms to sing the Disney tune “Zippity Doo Da.” It is a good illustration of Don’s ever positive and upbeat approach to the world. Once when asked how he managed raising so many daughters with such unflappable equanimity he replied, “I’m a pretty easy-going guy. You understand there’s going to be a lot of drama and you just go with it. They are all terrific and every one of them has unique characteristics I love.”
Don lived in many places along the east coast of the country for most of his adult years, but he always considered himself a “son of the heartland” so he was elated to move back to the region in 2015 to Madison, South Dakota, when his wife, Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, became president of Dakota State University. Madison and DSU quickly became “home” for him in a way that other places he had lived had not. Don always had a strong interest in current affairs and being part of a local community. In Madison he was able to connect with many other like-minded people, participating in multiple local organizations and activities as well as DSU events and activities as the university’s first official “First Dude.”
Ever an engaged and enthusiastic sports fan, he was absolutely delighted to be able to support DSU’s athletics teams. He relished attending any and all DSU Trojan’s events and especially enjoyed opportunities to get to know the athletes and coaches individually. Don knew first-hand the positive impact of athletic training and competition on the development of personal life skills as well as the profound effect that scholar-athletes can have in developing leadership and unity on a university campus. Don found great joy in supporting DSU Trojan athletes in their journeys and achievements.
Don was preceded in death by his infant daughter, Amy; his first wife, Martha (Thompson) King; two of his four brothers, Arnold and Paul; his parents, James Arnold King and Mary Elizabeth (Ward) King; and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Don is survived by his wife, Dr. José-Marie Griffiths; six daughters and their families: Lisa Hopper; Kelly Loudermilk; Sara (Tim) Born; Mary (Hal) Quayle; Erin (Sean) O’Donovan; and Rhiannon; including 14 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.
Don requested that his ashes be distributed at sea, in recognition of the honor he had serving his country in the U.S. Marines and Navy. The family is hoping to coordinate this with the activities of the USS South Dakota (SSN-790), a nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarine in service with the United States Navy. Don, President Griffiths, and their daughter Rhiannon attended the official commissioning of the submarine earlier this year in Connecticut.
The family wants to give special thanks to all those who have gone out of their way to provide such caring, skilled, and kind support and assistance to Don and President Griffiths and their extended family during this challenging of time of saying good-bye to Don in his earthly life. “Parting is such sweet sorrow…”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to student scholarships. These can be made in Don’s name to the DSU Foundation, 820 N. Washington Ave., Madison SD 57042 or at DSU.edu/give.
To send flowers to Don's family, please visit our floral section.