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Georgia Chess Association

Paul Donehoo - HOF Class of 2024


• participant in Southern Chess Association annual championships

• officer in Southern Chess Association (2nd vice president in 1938–1939)

• officer in Atlanta Chess Association (president in 1937)

• local celebrity

• used chess to encourage the disabled

• blindfold player


Paul Donehoo (1885–1940) was the long-serving beloved coroner of Fulton County. He was also a gifted musician, licensed lawyer, bridge player, bowler, fisherman, baseball fan, and competitive chess player. As a blind man, Donehoo developed to a remarkable extent the ability to use his ears as eyes, walking the city with only a cane, dodging trolleys and cars. He was famous for his phenomenal feats of memory. At age five he contracted spinal meningitis, which left him totally blind. His parents sent him to the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon, Georgia. One of the school’s brightest students, Donehoo learned music there and often gave performances. After eight years he also began attending Mercer University where he earned a degree in three years.

All of his life he devoted himself to improving opportunities for the blind, believing that “the blind should not isolate themselves.” He chaired the Committee for Lighthouses for the Blind in 1921. He is a founder and a charter member of the Georgia Association of Workers for the Blind. In the field of music, Donehoo was secretary of the Southern Musical Teachers’ Association and served as vice president and president of the Atlanta Federation of Musicians union. He served on the boards of numerous organizations.Donehoo gave inspirational talks in which he would display phenomenal feats of memory— this was a kind of forerunner to the memory demonstrations George Koltanowski would perform.

On February 2nd, 1908 the Atlanta Georgian and News informed its readers:

For the first time in the history of Fulton county a man who is totally blind will make the race for election to a county office. He Is G. Paul Donehoo, and he has announced his intention of entering the race for county coroner in opposition to the present incumbent. Mr. Donehoo is only 23 years of age and, altho’ he is totally blind, he unhesitatingly declares that he is qualified to discharge the duties of the office as efficiently and accurately as any man who is in full possession of all the faculties of body and mind.

In June 1908, the 23 year-old Donehoo won his race by a large majority, unseating the incumbent, a one-armed Confederate veteran. In 1910 he won re-election against a one-legged Confederate veteran. In 1928 he won against another blind candidate. Donehoo brought greater diligence and accountability to the office than previous coroners had, typing all his reports himself.In the manner of Paul Morphy, Donehoo committed to memory the state’s legal code related to inquests.He fulfilled the position continually for over 32 years until his death in 1940. As coroner, he held inquests in some of Atlanta’s most notorious murders, including the killings of Atlanta’s “Jack the Ripper.”  Donehoo was one of the first people to publicly express doubts as to the guilt of Leo Frank in 1915.

Considering Donehoo’s exceptional talent in music and statistical calculation, it is not surprising he completed the trifecta by also competing in over-the-board chess tournaments. Donehoo was in fact Georgia’s first blind player of note—and probably our greatest ever.

His obituary in The Atlanta Constitution said, “A devoted chess player, he had for years entered the biggest competitions the nation over. He often played exhibitions with the nation’s ranking players and, very often, won. Donehoo played on a numbered board and his opponents had to call the move only once and his memory did the rest.” Another obituary in The Atlanta Constitution stated, “Chess was a favorite pastime and in that game he excelled, being able to match his kingdom against that of any man in fair combat.” Even allowing for journalistic hyperbole, Donehoo was a serious chess player. He also played checkers.

We do not know when Donehoo first learned chess, but published references appear only later in his life. In the earliest notice, Donehoo was at one of 22 boards of a simul held by young Mexican champion Carlos Torre Repetto in Atlanta in 1928, losing one game. The visit was arranged by “local chess players,” perhaps including Donehoo and future Southern Chess Association (SCA) and Georgia Chess Association (GCA) state champions W. B. Woodbury and Milton Jarnigan. Despite the scarcity of information, Donehoo was not a casual or occasional chess player; it is clear that he devoted the same tremendous energy to promoting chess as he did his other engagements.

He was an active member of the Atlanta Chess Association, and in 1934 the club hosted a match against a team from Knoxville. Donehoo was not on the Atlanta team, however he and Marshall Southern (on the board of the SCA and, later, US Chess) played a blindfold match together. By 1936, at the latest, Donehoo was playing in the annual SCA tournaments. Our information is incomplete—we have no crosstables nor game scores—but he may have played in each SCA tournament between 1936 and 1940 as they were all held in Atlanta. In 1940 he played in the Class B section of the SCA annual.This indicates that he was a class player near the end of his life, which was cut short by a heart attack at age 55. Had he come to chess earlier, he might have been as outstanding a player as he was a musician and coroner. Photographs in The Atlanta Constitution show him seated with a peg board—although, given his prodigious memory, we may well wonder if he relied on it.

Whatever his strength as a player, Donehoo devoted his organizational energy to local chess associations. At the least, he was vice president of the ACA in 1934, president in 1937, and 2nd vice president of the SCA in 1938 and 1939, and chair of the SCA Registration Committee in 1940.As with his many other activities, Donehoo both enjoyed chess and by it showed everyone that, as he said, “Loss of sight most certainly does not mean loss of mental capacity and ambition.”




Atlanta Daily World (24 Dec 1940) p. 2.

Atlanta Georgian and News (14 June 1907) p. 9.

Atlanta Georgian and News (5 Feb 1908) p. 3.

Atlanta Georgian and News (30 May 1908) p. 5.

Atlanta Georgian and News (5 June 1908) p. 10.

Atlanta Georgian and News (9 Jan 1909) p. 11.

Atlanta Georgian and News (23 July 1910) p. 3.

Atlanta Georgian and News (3 Aug 1910) p. 7.

Atlanta Georgian and News (3 Sept 1910) p. 2.

Atlanta Georgian and News (16 June 1911) p. 1

Atlanta Georgian and News (14 July 1911) p. 1

Atlanta Georgian and News (20 June 1911) p. 4.

Atlanta Georgian and News (24 June 1911) p. 16.

Atlanta Georgian and News (4 Dec 1918) p. 12.

Atlanta Georgian and News (9 Jan 1920) p.5.

The Atlanta Constitution (31 May 1908) p. B7.

The Atlanta Constitution (23 Oct 1912) p. C5.

The Atlanta Constitution (13 Feb 1920) p. 7.

The Atlanta Constitution (8 Apr 1928) p. 8.

The Atlanta Constitution (5 Apr 1934) p. 15.

The Atlanta Constitution (4 May 1934) p. 21.

The Atlanta Constitution (7 July 1936) p. 9.

The Atlanta Constitution (25 Mar 1937) p. 21.

The Atlanta Constitution (4 July 1937) p. A10.

The Atlanta Constitution (15 July 1938) p. 25.

The Atlanta Constitution (6 July 1939) p. 16.

The Atlanta Constitution (26 June 1940) p. 9.

The Atlanta Constitution (6 July 1940) p. 2.

The Atlanta Constitution (18 Aug 1940) p. 8A. z

The Atlanta Constitution (23 Dec 1940) p.1

The Atlanta Constitution (24 Dec 1940) p 6.

The Atlanta Constitution (15 Jan 1941) p. 8.

Atlanta Semi-Weekly (8 Oct 1909) p. 1.

Augusta Herald (20 July 1919) p. 35.

Augusta Herald (26 Mar 1923) p. 1.

The Covington News (29 May 1936) p. 1

Fennessey, Steve. “Atlanta’s Jack the Ripper.”

Flagpole (28 Feb 1996) p. 7.

Jackson Herald (29 Mar 1928) p. 6.

Monticello News (27 May 1921) p. 1.

New York Evening Post (9 Feb 1921) p. 10.

New York Evening Post (10 Jan 1928) p. 21.

New York Times (1 June 1915).

New York Times (23 Dec 1940) p. 23

Niagara Falls Gazette (17 Oct 1936) p. 9

Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle (23 Dec 1940).

Schenectady Gazette (15 Dept 1922) p. 1.

The Summerville News (4 June 1903) p. 1.

The Technique (1 Dec 1939) p. 2

Yonkers Herald Statesman (13 Aug 1940) p. 14

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