Historically Yours: Gov. Phil Donnelly, first to serve non-consecutive terms

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

Philip Matthew “Phil” Donnelly was born on March 6, 1891, in Lebanon, Missouri, to Phil and Margaret (Halloran) Donnelly. He graduated from Lebanon High School in 1909 and went on to St. Louis University where he earned his law degree in 1913.

Donnelly returned to Lebanon and began his law practice with J.W. Farris. Two years later he married Miss Juanita McFadden and the couple had one son.  

Soon thereafter, Donnelly became interested in politics. He moved up quickly from city attorney, to Laclede County prosecutor and then, in 1922, he was elected State Representative. Donnelly was elected to the State Senate in 1924 and served there for the next 20 years. In 1944, Senator Donnelly was elected Governor.

Governor Donnelly’s first term was eventful. Missouri’s fourth and current Constitution went into effect on March 30, 1945, and, among other things, it created the Missouri Department of Revenue.

On March 5, 1946, Gov. Donnelly had the honor of welcoming Winston Churchill to Fulton, Missouri, for his famous Iron Curtain speech at Westminster College. 

As Missouri law prohibited governors from consecutive terms, Donnelly was unable to run again in 1948. He did, however, have the pleasure of giving the nominating speech for Harry Truman’s run for the White House. In 1952, Donnelly made his second bid for governor and won. He was the first of only two governors to serve non-consecutive terms. 

Gov. Donnelly’s second term was not without excitement. During 1953-1954, prison riots were the norm around the country, and the State Highway Patrol planned for that possibility.

Their training was put to good use on Sept. 22-23, 1954, when riots broke out and as many as 2,500 prisoners were loose inside the prison. It was a long 24 hours, and Gov. Donnelly was there through it all.

Upon leaving office, Donnelly semi-retired to a law practice with his son. He died on Sept. 12, 1961, and was laid to rest in the Lebanon, Missouri, city cemetery. His wife joined him in death on Dec. 14, 1980. 

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com.