Donald Lee Rieck Jr., 50, of Newtown Square, a political strategist in Philadelphia who went on to work in public affairs and most recently served as the director of a conservative foundation, died Thursday, Dec. 28, of injuries he sustained in a car accident earlier that day.
Mr. Rieck was traveling west on West Chester Pike in Newtown Square at 1 a.m. when his sedan rear-ended a SEPTA bus near Radnor Drive. He was pronounced dead at Paoli Hospital. It was unclear why he lost control of the car. Newtown Township police said Tuesday the accident was still under investigation.
Philadelphia filmmaker Sam Katz called Mr. Rieck's death "very sad." Mr. Rieck served as an assistant policy director during Katz's 1999 Republican campaign for mayor of Philadelphia. Running as a moderate against City Council President John F. Street, a Democrat, Katz came within 7,200 votes of beating Street, despite a 75 percent registration edge for Democrats. Mr. Rieck had a hand in outreach and organizing voters.
"He was a very outgoing guy," Katz said. "He had an incredible work ethic and was always excited about what we were doing. I always had the sense that it meant a lot to him to believe fervently in what he was doing, politics or otherwise.
"He loved to tell stories about his interactions with voters. He was a very bright and life-loving guy."
In 2000, Mr. Rieck served as assistant director of the Committee on Arrangements for the Republican National Convention, held in Philadelphia that August. He coordinated logistics and post-convention activities.
Mr. Rieck then spent a year in Washington as a research analyst for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and returned in 2002 to Philadelphia, where he was employed by Comcast for five years in the fraud and loss-prevention department.
He married Holly Sando in 2002, and the couple settled in Queen Village. During this period. Mr. Rieck earned an executive master of business administration degree from the Fox School of Business at Temple University.
In 2007, the Riecks moved to northern Virginia so that he could become director and managing editor of the Center for Media and Public Affairs and its affiliate, the Statistical Assessment Service.
Since 2014, Mr. Rieck had served as president of the nonprofit American Spectator Foundation, as well as publisher of the American Spectator, the foundation's monthly magazine.
Born in Reno, Nev., Mr. Rieck spent his childhood touring the country, following his father's band. He and his siblings were home-schooled, and Mr. Rieck became an avid reader. In 1986, Mr. Rieck graduated from Schuylkill Haven High School, near Pottsville, where he excelled as a varsity starter on the football and baseball teams.
He was recruited by Dickinson College, where he started as a defensive lineman for the football team and majored in political science. He graduated in 1990. Two of Mr. Rieck's favorite college memories were spending time with his Sigma Chi Fraternity brothers and playing on Dickinson football's 1989 Centennial Championship team, which was later inducted into the college's sports Hall of Fame.
Family friend Joseph Bongiovanni said Mr. Rieck worked hard at whatever he did. He was employed in a brick factory during the summers in college. While pursuing a master's degree in political science at Temple University, Mr. Rieck supported himself by tending bar at the former Dickens Inn on Headhouse Square.
"Don attracted customers who became good friends – the kind that continuously returned to speak with the interesting, intellectual, and philosophical young man pouring cocktails and pulling drafts behind the bar," Bongiovanni said.
Later in life, Mr. Rieck enjoyed travel and cooking. He delighted in being a father, coaching his children's baseball teams and teaching them how to play chess, eat sushi, and love reading Lord of the Rings, the fantasy novel by English author J.R.R. Tolkien.
"He was always outdoors with them — chopping down trees, playing in the pool, throwing a ball, or sledding," Bongiovanni said. "Don had a huge heart and a truly genuine hug."
In addition to his wife of 15 years, he is survived by children Donald Lee 3d and Emily Joyce; his parents, Donald L. Sr. and Denise A. Rieck; a brother; a sister; and many nieces and nephews.
The family will receive visitors starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3, at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church, 31 Pennswood Rd., Bryn Mawr. The funeral is to begin at 11 a.m. Burial will be private.