Donald H. Hoffman, retired Baltimore Sun commercial artist, dies

Donald H. Hoffman, a retired Baltimore Sun commercial artist whose career in the newspaper's marketing department spanned more than three decades, died May 4 from complications of pneumonia following surgery at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.

The longtime Parkville resident was 86.


Donald Henry Hoffman was born in Pittsburgh, the son of Albert Hoffman, an Armco Steel Co. manager, and May Hoffman, a homemaker.

He and his family settled in Hamilton in 1937. He attended the old St. Dominic parochial school and was a 1950 graduate of Loyola Blakefield.


After serving in the Army in Germany from 1954 to 1956, he enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art, graduating in 1957.

He was also married that year to the former Marlene Yeager, his high school sweetheart.

In 1957, he joined what was then the Baltimore Sun's promotion department, later the marketing department.

"The Sun was the only job he ever had in his life," said his son, John Hoffman of North Arlington, Va.

"Don had all of the fine MICA training and was extremely competent," said Jim Burger, a former photographer with the department who worked closely with Mr. Hoffman for many years.

"He could visualize a project from start to finish and knew what was needed. He figured it out and would do a round of sketches and concepts, perhaps three, which were all good and original," said Mr. Burger, a Remington resident who is a photographer and writer in Baltimore.

"He would do full-blown campaigns for advertising, circulation and editorial support, and when the work changed to computers, he was not left behind by technology," he said. "He made the jump, he got it."

Mr. Hoffman was a familiar figure who shambled through The Sun building wearing his trademark blue, button-down Oxford cloth shirts and sweater vests, with his glasses stuck above his forehead.


"He brought so much to his work and the department," Mr. Burger said. "Every day was different and a lot of that was due to him. He had a quick wit that was understated, but lightning fast. He was so clever and had so many great throwaway lines."

David Belz, a Lutherville resident who was corporate communications manager, was a close friend and colleague.

"When I was in [the marketing department] as a copy writer and later as creative services manager, Don reported to me. We did so many campaigns, advertising, circulation, editorial and promotion," he said.

"When my wife heard the news that Don had died, she said he was relaxed, laid-back and had no hangups — and she was right about that," Mr. Belz said. "He was an all-around easy going person. But when he came to work, he was a real workhorse who was determined to get the job done. He was one of those guys I could always rely on."

Gerald Smolinski, another colleague, was public affairs manager and headed the newspaper's education program in schools.

"When I joined the paper, it was a great time to be in newspapers. They were at their peak, and when I came to The Sun in 1976 it was a great place to work," said Mr. Smolinski, a Severna Park resident. "That's when I met Don, who was very intelligent, friendly, entertaining and who inspired humor that helped put everything in perspective. He had great quips and timing."


"Don had a wide range of interests and was enormously well-read," he said. "He was a classy guy who contributed much to the organization."

Mr. Smolinski recalled his friend's vast knowledge of the obscure and arcane.

"One day we were talking about guano, and it was Don who patiently explained that there were two types: the island type and the land type. It gave us a big laugh," he said.

Mr. Hoffman was often joined by Messrs. Burger, Belz and Smoliniski after work at the next door athletic club for a beer or two. They called themselves The Choir.

"We had a new woman in the department and when we started talking about choir practice, she said she didn't know The Sun had a choir," Mr. Burger recalled with a laugh. "We said yes, and that Don had a voice like an angel."

"The Choir" then decided they would visit a new bar each week.


"We hit the road and kept a list of where we went. I think we hit well over a 100 bars during the years. We started at Frazier's in Hampden and moved onto the Backstretch, Pappas Sports Bar and in recent years, the Firehouse Tavern in Parkville," Mr. Burger said.

Mr. Hoffman retired in 1994, and thereafter only casually dabbled in art.

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He lived in Parkville for nearly 60 years. He enjoyed traveling, taking cruises, driving his Volkswagen, caring for his greyhounds and using his skills as a handyman to care for his home.

"He liked all things Baltimore: beer, the Orioles and basketball. He was something of a gourmet cook who liked preparing Mediterranean, Italian and Spanish dishes, and watching 'Jeopardy,'" said his daughter, Kathleen Rzemien of Jericho, Vt.

"His son John told me a few hours before Don died, a woman came to talk to him about hospice care," Mr. Smolinski said. "At the end of the discussion he reached out and hugged her and thanked her for what she had brought to him. That was so typical of Don."

"He was a person who was really loved," Mr. Burger said.


Mr. Hoffman was a communicant of St. Isaac Jogues Roman Catholic Church, 9215 Old Harford Road, Parkville, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his wife of 61 years, son and daughter, Mr. Hoffman is survived by four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.