Ronald R. Donatucci
Trustee Ronald R. Donatucci — attorney, veteran Philadelphia official and former state representative — says that his “heart was in politics” ever since he was a young man. If so, then politics has shared space with another long-time love: his alma mater, Temple University.
Donatucci was born and raised in South Philadelphia’s Girard Estate neighborhood. His father, Thomas, was the first Italian manager in the grocery chain that became Acme, and later founded his own supermarket in South Philly. Donatucci’s father was also politically active, serving as a ward leader and a state official under state Auditor General Robert P. Casey (prior to Casey’s election as governor).
When the time came to consider college, Donatucci’s choice was clear. “Temple was a family tradition,” he said. “I had it on both sides: My father, who was in the class of 1935, loved Temple, and so did my mother’s brother.” (Donatucci’s brother, Pennsylvania state Rep. Robert C. Donatucci, and his sister, Rita, are also Temple alumni.)
Shortly after Donatucci graduated in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Liberal Arts, his father died suddenly. Stunned, Donatucci heeded the advice of friends who encouraged him to go to law school. He attended classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law, commuting to Baltimore four nights a week while working as an auditor for the state.
In 1972, Donatucci took a job as a law clerk in Philadelphia’s Solicitor’s Office under Mayor Frank Rizzo. It was the beginning of a 34-year career in municipal government. The following year, Donatucci was appointed chief of enforcement of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections and then counsel to the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
In 1974, Donatucci was elected Democratic ward leader of Philadelphia’s 26th ward (the area around the stadium complex), a position he still holds. Two years later, he successfully ran for Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives in the state’s 185th district, an office now held by his brother, Robert. After three years in Harrisburg, Donatucci was elected Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans’ Court for the City of Philadelphia in 1979; 27 years later, he is in his seventh term.
Although little known, the Register of Wills plays a critical role in the city’s legal and economic life. Functions of the office include determining whether documents offered for probate should be received as last wills, and hearing testimony when wills are challenged. According to Donatucci, his office handles 7,000 estates a year, either by will or intestate.
Donatucci, who was appointed to Temple’s Board of Trustees earlier this year by Gov. Edward G. Rendell, is thrilled with the changes he has witnessed at the University.
“I’ve seen the transformation,” Donatucci said. “It’s a first-class academic school. When parents come to visit Temple now, they see a well-lit, beautiful campus with state-of-the-art buildings and wonderful eateries. The University’s growth has revitalized the whole area.”
Donatucci acknowledges that plenty of hurdles remain, foremost among them fundraising, an area where Temple historically has lagged.
“I believe the big challenge will be our finances,” Donatucci said. “We need to mobilize our alumni, staff and faculty. Everybody needs to understand how important it is to participate in fundraising.”
Donatucci is certain Temple’s extended family is up to the task.
“When alumni learn what’s happening here at Temple, especially if they walk through the campus, they’ll see how their school hasn’t just survived,” he said, “it has flourished.”
— Hillel J. Hoffmann