Tom Doar loved to pretend he was a country bumpkin lawyer from rural Wisconsin. But he was a savvy businessman who played a key role in helping WCCO-TV become a nationally recognized powerhouse of public affairs journalism in the 1970s and 1980s.
Doar, former chairman of MTC Properties Inc. that owned the television and radio station and who was active on many civic boards, died on June 20. He was 95.
“He was a gentle giant in broadcasting,” said Ron Handberg, news director and then general manager at Channel 4 between 1971 and 1989. “He stood guard at the door of good journalism in those days, and protected us from outside interference and advertisers and politicians and just allowed us to do our jobs.”
Doar was born and raised in New Richmond, Wis., and educated at St. Paul Academy, the University of Colorado and the University of Wisconsin Law School. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II between 1943 and 1946, and joined his father’s law practice in 1947. His marriage to his first wife, Patricia, in 1948 lasted 59 years until her death.
“He was an optimist,” said his daughter, Kathleen. “He was always singing ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’ and toasting us kids with his orange juice.”
Doar was soft-spoken, unassuming and humble, she said, but well-known in New Richmond where he earned the nickname “The Inspector” because of his strong interest in questioning people and getting to know them. He maintained the law practice there, but was increasingly drawn into the media and business world of the Twin Cities.
By marriage, he joined the Murphy family that owned part of the Minneapolis Tribune and part of Midwest Radio Television Inc., license holder for WCCO radio and television. Ridder Publications and Minneapolis Star and Tribune owner John Cowles Jr. also owned part of the broadcasting company.
As president of the family’s holding company from 1969 to 1980, Doar figured out a way for the cross-ownership of WCCO to be simplified through swapping ownership interests and a buyout, so that the broadcast company could separate from the newspapers in 1976. Doar became chairman of the newly formed MTC Properties Inc. in 1980 that owned 100 percent of WCCO until after he retired in 1990.
Nancy Mate, former researcher and director of the WCCO-TV public affairs unit, said Doar explained his family’s ownership role as “being willing to let broadcasters run the stations without a lot of interference.”
The station produced “Moore on Sunday,” a weekly magazine-style program during the 1970s hosted by popular anchor Dave Moore. That evolved into prime-time documentaries in the 1980s and I-team investigative reports on news shows. “It was an extraordinary commitment to public affairs for almost 20 years,” Mate said.
The programs broke new ground by focusing on such topics as child sexual abuse, gay rights, Vietnam, and the performance of Hennepin County judges and Minneapolis housing inspectors.
The stories were provocative and yielded a slew of national awards, but also generated sponsor complaints and occasional lawsuits, Handberg said. “We came under a lot of fire from a lot of directions, but Tom Doar was always there to have our backs.”
Doar was also instrumental in changing architects for the station’s downtown headquarters, built in 1982.
Doar is survived by his second wife, Jean Selvig of Naples, Fla.; daughter Kathleen and sons Tom of Chicago and Patrick of New Richmond, Wis.; six grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren.
A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 6, at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in New Richmond, Wis., with visitation one hour before the mass.