“To live life to the fullest,
To do what I love to do,
To help anyone, with anything,
To spend time with family and friends,
To share love with everyone who needs it and,
To leave them a little better off for it.” — Donahue’s unofficial guide to life
Joe Patrick Donahue was a man of many hats.
Besides all the baseball caps depicting places he’d visited over the decades, there’s a beret. A yarmulke. The black fedora. And even sometimes ... a hat more often associated with the ladies of the Red Hat Society.
Donahue died July 18 at age 74.
“I’m encouraged to see the sanctuary so full,” said Rev. David Hunter of the Brookings Presbyterian Church, on Sunday, where Donahue wore a few hats himself. “This is testimony to the person Joe was.”
Donahue was born Dec. 14, 1943, to Alma and Cornelius Donahue on a farm in Townsend, Montana. He grew up in Three Forks, on a farm that didn’t have electricity or running water until his junior year in high school; graduated Montana State University in Bozeman with a degree in agricultural engineering in 1966, and married Karen Halseth, with whom he had his sons, Michael and Steven. The couple later divorced.
Much of his career was spent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), where Helen Nidegger also worked, and who tried to sell him a ticket to a concert.
“He said he’d purchase two of them, if she’d go with him,” Hunter said. “It must’ve been a pretty good concert, because they kept meeting each other.”
He later accepted a job in New Mexico, and called Helen to report that he’d check the box that indicated he was married on the documents he needed to for the job.
“She asked if he had anyone in mind,” Hunter related. “And he asked if she’d be available. Of course, she said yes.”
The two stayed in government work throughout the 1970s and 1980s, primarily in Alaska; Donahue retired after 25 years, in 1991. They moved to Brookings in 2003.
And Donahue was involved in hunting, fishing, hiking, gardening, running,” Hunter said. “If it was an activity he could enjoy outside, Joe would be there.”
He even took up running, after his son Michael, then in high school, challenged him to beat a 6-minute mile. That lead to half-marathons, the Golden Gate Relay in California, the Hood to Coast Relay — and numerous Turkey Trots.
Many in the community knew Donahue through his membership in the Lions Club. There, he worked to collect Kans for Kids for eyesight-challenged people and was involved in the installation of the Lion’s lion drinking fountain in Azalea Park.
He was an honorary member of the Soroptimists, too, as he was the one most often called to move furniture or set up tables. He would play cards with women of the Red Hat Society if they had an odd number of participants — but most knew he was just offering so he could have some of the food served.
Donahue — who claimed to be an introvert — seemed most at home on stage in front of a sold-out house. He performed for both the Brookings Harbor Community Theater and Chetco Pelican Players, in which he again wore many hats.
Most recently, he played the father figure by which so many feel they know him: the reverend in M*A*S*H in October 2016, the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof in February 2017 and the wise grandfather in Junie B. Jones is not a Crook this year.
He also acted with his church — “He even played God once,” Hunter proclaimed, laughing — as well as served as an usher and maintenance man there.
His son, Stephen, spoke of how his father would, on each child’s and grandchild’s 10th birthday, take them wherever they wanted to go, give that child his undivided attention for at least 24 hours. Only one granddaughter, at 8 years of age, missed out on that tradition.
His granddaughter Mary remembers her vacation to Virginia Beach for her birthday. Grandson Timothy loved that Grandpa could make everyone laugh. Abraham remembered the silly things he’d do, and Samuel noted that Donahue had a knack for hitting all the sand and water traps on a golf course.
Others spoke of his generosity, primarily of time and attention, and how Donahue could make one feel as if they were the only person in the room. Grandson Graham recalled the long discussions they’d have — farming, theater, Ireland — and Donahue’s extensive knowledge of them or quest for more.
“He’s made me want to try new things, enjoy life,” Stephen read from a note he wrote. “I’m inspired by the life he lived. He made the world a happier, better place.”
Donahue often said religion and politics were two topics best avoided in nice company — and then proceed to discuss them, taking the opposite side of the person with whom he was speaking.
Donahue’s son, Michael, said he always thought his father was invincible.
“But alas,” he said. “Here we are.”
He recalled road trips with his parents, stories Donahue would tell — “true, or hogwash?” — debates he’d start just to get people to think about topical issues.
“If Dad were here, he’d have everyone laughing and comfortable,” Michael said. “He’d be telling jokes. It’s obvious Dad — Joe — touched every one of the people here.”
He described his father as a role model, a best friend — Donahue was the best man at both sons’ weddings — and a man of incredible patience.
“He loved people,” Michael said. “He’d talk to anyone about anything. Forever. He’d strike a conversation up with anyone and, in a few minutes, have that person’s whole life story. I can see him sitting at a table, drinking a Guinness with a priest, a vicar and a rabbi all arguing each other’s religions against each other.”
Donahue was the kind of man for whom no one in the family lived too far to visit, or who would trade all his Monopoly property deeds to a grandchild in exchange for a hug, he related.
“The last few weeks, it was more important for him to see the grandkids than to take care of his own health,” Michael said. “That’s the thing he loved most, being a grandpa.”
It was, after all, one of the many hats he wore so well.
Those in the audience recalled times made amusing by Donahue’s wit, the teasing he could dole out and take, and his faith, service and love of family, church, Lions, friends and community.