“Eulogy for Joseph P. Donahue Jr” by Matt Donahue

Matt Donahue delivered the eulogy at his dad’s funeral yesterday. Several who attended the service mentioned to me how much they enjoyed and appreciated his remarks, so I asked Matt to share them and he generously did so:

A Eulogy for Joseph P. Donahue Jr.
September 18, 2013

What if everyone you met loved you?

I mean everyone… regardless of the amount of time they spent with you – whether it be a passing acquaintance, a waitress/waiter in a restaurant, a golfer in a foursome or an old childhood friend. Their station was irrelevant – painters, plumbers, carpenters, priests, nuns, US Senators, Chancellors, Governors fellow attorneys and judges…

How would that happen? What would that be like?

What type of person would you have to be?
My father loved books and had a habit of walking into your room and throwing a book on the bed and saying “Read this!” There was no further explanation.

To find the answer to our question we can visit the chapters of his life to mine the answer. It is a book filed with Loyalty, Humility, Generosity, Patience, Humor and ultimately, Love.

Chapter I Loyalty

Joe Donahue was nothing if he was not loyal. He was not lamely loyal: he was hands on loyal. He was tirelessly true to those he loved, starting with his parents. Throughout our childhood, he took his mother Dorothy out to dinner every Wednesday night. When his father convalesced for a year in the old Saint John’s Hospital in 1972-73, Joe Jr. visited every day. Though he was proud to have stood by his country, singlehandedly protecting the west coast from invasion as an ensign in the navy in WWII, but his loyalty was more often fiercely local: he stood by as counsel to his brothers, sisters, his in-laws, to friends old and new, to leaders in the community and in politics, to his church as a lector at early morning masses in this very lower church. He looked after people, and he looked after things, the roof of this very church for example, the roof that covers the upper church, a roof that we could all look up and see, were we there.

I am not sure I can do justice to what it felt like to have Joe Donahue in your corner. Each of you no doubt have a sense of it, of his devotion to you, of how in ways either small or large, he helped you out. He rooted for you. That’s why each of you can feel in yourselves, in your own unique way, how in this passing a huge empty void lies open before us.

And so you might appreciate a small story of keeping fidelity over the span of a life, and beyond:

It seems that as a young ball player playing for American Legion Post 87 at the age of 16 or 17 he broke his leg in a game sliding in to 3rd base. As he spent the balance of the summer sitting out on the porch at 80 Mansur Street in a cast, a Mr. Pollard who owned a drug store with a soda fountain, would come by every day and gave him a milk shake. I learned that story decades later as a young boy as I watched Dad as he was heading out the door to go to Mr. Pollard’s wake.

Chapter II Humility

Joe Donahue was a quiet man with a quick wit, private, humble to his core. He often turned attention away from himself and loved to tell a story with the punch line coming at his own expense.

Joe Donahue routinely downplayed his considerable talents. Success, for him, came from persistence and vision and heart. He took deep delight in the achievements of those around him, of those he loved. He took proper pride, but I don’t think I ever heard him sound a boastful note. He understood the work and at times heartbreak that lay behind even a small triumph. You knew he knew that. To get a simple nod from him was worth reams of praise from anyone else.

A typical Joe Donahue story went like this:

Upon the return of a physics test each student was called to the front of the class to collect their exam. When he returned to his seat he noticed that the student next to him was laughing, Dad asked him what was so funny, he said, “See that guy over there? He got a 27 on his exam,” Dad laughed later admitting that the exam in his pocket was a 19!

The 6’4” first basemen who threw right but batted left was once playing a game at University of Virginia. The right field wall was in play much like Fenway Park’s left field but the wall was actually the cement abutment to the football stadium. “I hit the ball so hard …[This begins to sound alike a rare boast but…]it hit off the abutment and bounced all the way back to the second baseman— I almost was thrown out at first base!”

Joe Donahue humble nature was driven no doubt by certain fundamental principles of his Catholic faith, though true to form he would not tell you exactly which ones. He didn’t sweat the theological details, though he believed the Church had lost its way on many issues. The fundamentals were the same. Surprisingly he often quoted scripture, one line of scripture particularly, though an internet search yesterday through various translations has failed to find the part of the Bible where Jesus says: “Get up off thine ass.”

He enjoyed action, the guys who got things done, and he pitched in donating and raising money for Church causes. He especially admired the late Fr. Thomas Reddy OMI, former pastor here, Sister Thibodeau of the former St. Joseph’s Hospital, the Nuns of D’Youville Manor and Father Sanella. Though he was less active in later years, he was very happy that a man of your caliber was given this parish. He was unquestionably devoted to this parish and its survival and betterment.

Chapter III Patience

He judged no person harshly. As a father, he patiently waited for each of us to deepen our engagement with living, to show what most mattered to us, to decide what we would stand by and for. When you had a plan, he was all in.

He listened. In situations when any one of us might say forget it! – Joe listened, he forgave. This is not to say that he might not have clear views on the matter, but he cut much slack. And he always held out hope. A response to a typically wild idea would not be discouragement but as my brother John reports, a comment like “Tell me how that turns out.”

It was his gift for listening that allowed him to manage the merger of the Lowell Technological Institute and Lowell State Teachers College into then University of Lowell in the early 1970’s. In that process he asked each department head to present a plan of what the potential future University would look like, one rose above all others. William Hogan, then the Dean of Engineering, presented to Joe his plan. My father went to the Board of Trustees and said, “I am not sure if we will get a University but if we do, I know who your President will be.” In talking to Chancellor Meehan this week he talked of the significance of the merger and the subsequent selection of Hogan and his building of a major research university. It laid the foundation for the things he is doing today.

In a rough and tumble city like Lowell it is clearly ironic that the quiet, patient diplomat was the man to get the job done.

Chapter IV Humor

Who among us has not felt the big hand and broad arm on your back or neck. The affectionate squeeze as he buckled over in laughter, the grab of the knee. Ironically again, his humor was borne out of setbacks. He understood loss, the loss of a spouse, (my mother Eileen Donahue, who lives on and blesses us all here through in the voices of her daughter and granddaughters, though to be frank she would have preferred we all be in the upper church!), the loss of a sister and a young nephew, the loss of dear friends. As a husband, father, brother, son, spouse, as a lawyer, he took in the ups and downs of all those around him, he could speak of difficult matters with both frankness and tact. But he also loved joy, he felt it often in himself and he helped bring it into the lives of those around him.

Last Thursday night after a biopsy he decided he was getting out of the bed in which he had been forced to lay for several days. When we asked him where he was going he pointed determinedly across the room to a chair and said, “I am going to sit in that chair.” We pulled the chair closer and he got in. When my brother Joe appeared, he asked his father how he was doing, the patient said: “Never been better in my life.”

In difficult situations he could deflect with his humor, not better told by the story of Jackson the blood hound and Jerry Murphy’s Trumpet.

Jerry Murphy was a neighbor of ours who was also endured by others like George Eliades, Bill Lipchitz and Brian Martin. Jackson was our high strung dog who dug holes in your lawn and barked at rocks. Around this time Jerry Murphy was taking trumpet lessons and we would all hear Jerry practicing at night. One night Jackson was baying under Jerry’s bedroom window for some unknown reason and Jerry had had enough so he called dad to complain. Dad’s response: “Jerry he wants to hear a few more notes from that trumpet”

Chapter V. The Good Man

Last night we all witnessed the impact of the passing of a good man. That was a phrase we heard all night.
In the end, it was his caring for others that made such a big man truly immense, like a mountain range always there; always beautiful, enduring, strong, yet gentle as a stream.

All of you who have received one of those small acts of gratitude know how special this man was: The young boy who received his milk shakes in that summer in the late 1930’s returned the favor tenfold.

The special meal ordered for his daughter upon her return from the Peace Corps.

The caring continued in the last week, caring for his children by making sure they knew everything was fine.

The caring came full circle for Joe upon his marriage to his devoted wife Karen in 2004. Karen instinctively understood this man’s goodness and Dad knew a quality person and they loved each other and cared for each other for the past nine years. It was the capstone for a great life.

So those are the chapters of the Good Man’s Life

So what would it be like if everyone you met loved you? How would that be? You now know, because you have met him, lived with him and learned from him. Like a smart lawyer, He has set the ultimate question, the path forward from here, the path that now winds on without him. He will not give us the answer, though his life is full of clues. So what is our responsibility, how do we fill the empty void of his passing? It is time to pick up the mantle of the Quiet Man. Not necessarily to storm the hill with guns a blazing. Not to be loud or boisterous. But not to stand by and cheer idly.
Not to seek only self-fulfillment but to help, to listen and help.

To be true to who he was, to carry him in our hearts, will require of us resolve, and patience, we must sow good deeds in the invisible folds of life—giving, selflessly and sometimes anonymously, waiting, forgiving, working, and now and then, yes, taking a moment to celebrate. Therein the void will be filled, the realization will come that the void was never a possibility we all embody some bit of him we all can carry on that spirit. This is the Greatness of which we are all witnesses. He has shrewdly placed us here and we cannot escape the fact that we now know better. So go there if you can, it may require a bit of hard work, but his spirit is surely with us as he has always been, and passes through us, into the future.