Shrewsbury’s inspiring Babs Donahue

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Continuing a legacy of philanthropy at age 94

By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Babs Donahue at home in Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury – Barbara Grant Donahue recently celebrated her 94th birthday. She was born on May 17, 1926: the same year as Queen Elizabeth II. Like the Queen, Barbara “Babs” is sharp, spry and still very independent.

During a recent visit she reminisced about her life that has been filled with love, laughter, music, hard work, community service and a deep faith in God that she shared with her late husband, Shrewsbury native, philanthropist and founder of Donahue Industries, Inc. – Irving James Donahue, Jr.

“I have seen a lot of Presidents,” Donahue said, as she reflected on turning 94. “It’s a step toward 100 and that’s my goal.”

She grew up in Athol, Mass. and graduated from a secretarial program at Becker College in Worcester. She went to a work as a private secretary.

Destiny brought Jim and Babs together in May of 1946. She fell in love with him before she even met him. 

They were set up by his father whom she knew through her work. She had heard all about Jim through stories and a news article that featured a photo of him in his Naval Officer uniform. With that story was a poem he had written about surviving a typhoon in the Pacific.

“He got accepted at Harvard to go for his graduate degree and he said, “I don’t want to leave you behind so the best thing I can do is to marry you and take you with me,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Okay, let’s go!” 

The couple married in September of 1946 and raised two daughters, Susan Donahue Falzoi and Judy Donahue, while Babs continued to work. In addition to being a secretary, she was a Sunday School teacher, a floral arranger and a storyteller/ventriloquist with her Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls in tow. She retired at the age of 72 to care for her ailing husband.

During their marriage, Jim had established the Irving James Donahue, Jr. Fund to support their expansive philanthropy. 

“The purpose of this fund that Jim set up was to save a life or change a life,” Donahue explained.

With that credo they supported countless causes and built The Donahue Rowing Center on Lake Quinsigamond.

Since Jim’s passing in 2003 Donahue has carried on, and inspired by her faith and prayer, continuing to support many in need. 

As such, she has purchased several ventilators and a brain scanner for the NICU at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester. 

“Premature babies, boy, that’s where you save lives…I have seen such wonderful things happen,” she said. 

And she has also changed the lives of several students in need at St. John’s High School over the years. She called them “her boys.” Sam, who was her first, is still a part of her life today.

Babs Donahue at home in Shrewsbury

Her love for her husband has never wavered. In 2004, the family honored him by installing a display of “Dancing Musical Lights” in the pond at Dean Park. Then in 2016 she donated a bronze statue called “Angel of Peace” to St. John’s High School and she gifted an exercise and weight training room to the Shrewsbury Fire Department. 

“I love those firemen. I am the only honorary woman member of the fire department,” she shared proudly.

In her spare time she knits prayer shawls and gives them away to friends and visitors. 

At the age of 94, Donahue has no desire to slow down. 

“I’m needed. I’m busy and I just don’t have time to die,” she said. 

 

Photos/Melanie Petrucci