School 09

Robert Lewis Donohew, Sr.

May 9, 1929 ~ June 15, 2019 (age 90)


Robert Lewis Donohew,Sr.  age 90, retired professor of communication at the University of Kentucky and a longtime resident of Montgomery County, died 1:15pm 15th of June. He was an internationally known scholar in the field of communication. His research was funded for more than two decades by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), especially the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA). He was principal investigator on 12 projects and co-investigator on 18 others. The projects focused on human information processing and individual differences in what attracts and holds attention to both media and interpersonal messages and what persuades individuals to change unhealthy behaviors. Primary focus of the research was prevention of risky behaviors involving drug abuse and risky sex. His work took him to 29 countries on five continents. In 2007, he and members of his research team received the Society for Prevention Research’s Prevention Science Award to “a research group that has produced a significant body of research applying scientific methods to test preventive interventions or policies.” The team was credited with changing the way health communication campaigns are conducted. In 2001, he was named the National Communication Association’s “Health Communication Scholar of the Year.”Then in 2006, he made an invited presentation on the work at the 10th anniversary meeting of the Office of Social and Behavioral Sciences, National Institutes of Health, and to a Congressional delegation. He was a pioneer in the development of  drug and HIV-prevention messages that targeted thrill-seekers—those most likely to abuse drugs or engage in risky sex-- with his use of behavioral science research methods and technology—most recently functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study brain responses of high risk takers or sensation seekers to prevention messages. He was author of a widely-used  Activation Theory of Information Exposure and published 31 books and chapters, 52 journal articles, six special reports and monographs, and presented more than 50 papers at major conferences nationally and in 29 countries internationally. He also served as a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization and was a special review consultant on research on mass media and public health campaigns for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Cancer Institute, and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Professor Donohew earned an associate of arts degree in English and was a catcher on the baseball team at Cumberland College (now the University of the Cumberlands), then completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master of Arts degree in political science from UK.

After receiving a PhD in mass communication with a concentration in behavioral sciences from the University of Iowa, he returned to UK as an assistant professor in journalism. After two years as an assistant professor, he was promoted to associate professor, and three years later to professor. Three years after becoming a full professor, he was appointed Director of the School of Communication and Associate Dean of the College of  Arts and Sciences. Professor Donohew was the primary force in establishment of communication as a discipline at the University of Kentucky, serving as principal architect of the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in the field. In 1989, he established the first University of Kentucky Health Communication Conference. The conference is now held biennially in Lexington. He formally retired from UK in 1999 but continued to work under a post-retirement appointment until Fall, 2013. After his retirement  he served as a consultant or co-investigator on research projects at Duke, Wake Forest, the University of Kentucky, the University of New Mexico, a cancer center in Denver, and a private research company in Chicago,.

In 1992, he purchased a farm in Montgomery County, moved there, and grew cattle and wine grapes while continuing his work at the university. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Phyllis Aileen-Donohew, two sons, Robert  Lewis Donohew, Jr., Rochester, N.Y., and John Patrick Donohew (Catherine). San Anselmo, CA, a daughter , Kerry (Edward) Schneider, Lexington, two stepdaughters, Kimberly Braun, Boulder, CO, and Kelly (Stephen) Chin-Yee, Englewood, FL, and a stepson, Dr. Adam Braun (Ashley), Lexington, six grandchildren, six step-grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, a brother, Terry, Bath County, and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by two brothers, Samuel (Helen) and Roger (Mary) Donohew, Bath County, his first wife, Ethel Cox Donohew, and his parents, Ford and Ethel Couchman Donohew of Bath County.

Private services will be held at a later time.

Contributions suggested to the University of Kentucky, College of Communication Robert Lewis Donohew Scholarship Fund

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