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Eight Bells: Donald J. Matthews

Published on August 8th, 2023

Donald J. Matthews

Donald J. Matthews, a remarkable man of integrity, generosity, and unwavering faith, died peacefully on June 5th, at the age of 89, in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Don was born in 1933, the son of Captain John N. Matthews and Dorothy Webb Matthews, and brother to John, Robert, Richard, Jane, and Lucille. He grew up on Centre Island, Oyster Bay, NY where he developed his passion for sailing at Seawanhaka Yacht Club.

He graduated from Georgetown Prep in 1951 and the University of Notre Dame in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in business where he also captained the sailing team. In 1956, Don married Cynthia Hackney and together they raised four children in Rye, NY.

Don was an accomplished sailor who co-skippered two America’s Cup yachts – Vim, the family-owned 12 Metre, which narrowly lost out in races to select the New York Yacht Club’s defender in 1958, and Weatherly, which won the America’s Cup in 1962. He was one of the longest standing members of the New York Yacht Club having joined in 1956.

His early career was dedicated to his family’s maritime transport business, where he played a key management role in the expansion of the business portfolio through acquisitions and formations of several companies, including Midland Insurance Co., Hamilton Watch Co., Wallace Silver, and Universal Airlines.

Don was President of the company that produced the first digital clock and first electric and digital watches using LEDs. The clock debuted in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the Pulsar watch was unveiled on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1970. He later joined insurance brokerage firm Johnson & Higgins, ultimately becoming President of the Texas operation and bringing his family to live in Dallas from 1977 to 1982.

Don subsequently returned to the New York office where he was the Senior Vice President for the newly established financial institution division. After retiring from J&H, he co-founded and served as president of American Capital Access Holdings, a financial guarantee insurance company.

Throughout his life, Don embodied the spirit of philanthropy, generously dedicating his time, treasure, and talent to numerous organizations including as Chairman, Guiding Eyes for the Blind; Trustee: United Hospital, NY, Presbyterian Hospital, Dallas; Hurricane Island Outward Bound School; and Mercy College, NY (Emeritus).

In 1989, he was inducted to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta where he participated in countless acts of charity, including taking those in need of healing on pilgrimages to Lourdes, France. Of all his philanthropy and service, his most cherished commitment was to his alma mater.

Beginning in 1971, Don served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Notre Dame and in 2004 was elected to emeritus status and subsequently named a Hesburgh Trustee in 2019. A gift he made in 1967 established Notre Dame’s first endowed professorship, the John N. Matthews Chair in Law, named in honor of his father.

His legacy lives on through his four children: Thérèse Matthews(Agustín Edwards), Kathryn Matthews, Brian (Leslie) Matthews, Sharon Matthews (Fernando Zegers), and his ten grandchildren: William, Henry and Anne Greer; Rachel, Justin, Catherine, and Joe Matthews; Emilia, Olivia, and Tomás Zegers Matthews.

Don was a man of strong faith and looked forward to one day spending his eternity with God, with whom he is enjoying a round of golf with a cigar and fine single malt in hand. The family takes comfort in knowing he is in the best hands possible.


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