By Julie Kayzerman Editor-in-Chief
Pat Donohue didn’t dedicate his life to community service and helping others for accolades or awards. He simply did it because “he felt that part of the responsibility of being here on earth was to try and make things better,” said Pete Donohue, 50, Pat’s twin brother.
Donohue, the former assistant provost who died tragically last month after jumping off the George Washington Bridge on Tuesday, July 7, had spent nine years at the College with the Bonner Institute for Civic and Community Engagement and was dedicated to serving the community of Trenton. He retired from the College on Wednesday, July 1, in part because of job-related stress, according to Pete. Donohue is the fourth suicide related to the College in three years.
“I knew he was doing good stuff, but I was just blown away by this turnout (at the funeral),” Pete said in a phone interview last month. “It’s just crazy to me. I mean there was like a three-hour wait to get into the wake … there were people coming up to me saying, ‘He changed my life doing this work.’ Really mind blowing.”
The wake, held on Friday, July 17, had a wide turnout of about 700-800 people at the Sacred Heart Church in Trenton, Pete said.
Under the leadership of Donohue, the Bonner program increased from 24 to 101 students and the number of First Seminar Program community engaged learning sections grew to over 40, according to a May email from Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jacqueline Taylor, that announced Donohue’s retirement.
“He just works to try to improve things, make things better, in Trenton particularly,” Pete said. “He spent many, many years trying to improve the lives of people who are less fortunate in the city of Trenton itself.”
Donohue also helped create the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy two years ago to help teens turn away from lives of crime, according to the New York Daily News. He also worked closely with the Institute for Prison Teaching and Outreach and TCNJ TrentonWorks. According to The Times, Donohue was instrumental in opening a satellite office of the College in downtown Trenton to offer classes, lectures, movie screenings and workspace.
“Pat was a charismatic leader who saw potential in the projects and the people he worked with,” said John Laughton, dean of the School of Arts and Communication who worked with Donohue for six years. “He understood the need for social engagement and connecting people with a shared vision.”
Donohue left behind his wife Donna, his daughter Cate, 16, and his son Patrick, 20.
“They’re devastated,” Pete said of Pat’s family. “Absolutely devastated.”
“In my mind, Pat couldn’t have died to teach us a lesson because no lesson could ever equal the good Pat would have accomplished with the rest of his life,” Pat’s older brother, Jimmy, said in his eulogy during the funeral. “At the same time, I refuse to believe, I absolutely refuse to believe that Pat has died in vain. So I’m going to ask you a favor. I’m going to ask you to take a solemn vow, right now in this church.
“I’m asking you to tell someone today, before the sun sets, that if you are ever in so much pain that you feel you might do harm to yourself, you will tell that person, that you will make one simple phone call and say, ‘I don’t trust myself right now.’ I would like to ask you to raise your hand if you promise you’ll do that today.”
Pete admitted he’s had trouble knowing what to say to people regarding his brother’s death, but knows that if his story can save someone someday it’s absolutely worth telling.
“Because of the stigma, people don’t talk about (suicide), so I think that’s part of the problem,” Pete said. “It’s got to be a more candid and honest discussion and (there must be) recognition that this happens to a lot of good people and it’s happening a lot more often than you think.”
The Pat Donohue Family Fund has been created to support the family and his children’s education. Donations can be made at http://www.bonner.org/pat-donohue-family-fund.
Donations in honor of Donohue can also be made to his favorite charity, The Greg Grant 94 Ft. Academic Sports Academy.
“I love all of you in this room because you loved my brother,” Jimmy said in his eulogy. “I know that he would want you to leave here, have a beer, and look forward to the rest of your wonderful lives.”