June 23, 2024

Remembering George Donovan – Teacher, WWII Veteran, Volunteer & Townie

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Donovan to be inducted into the EPHS Hall of Fame in October ceremony. Funeral, calling hours and Mass to be announced shortly

East Providence and many in the region are mourning the passing of 96-year-old George Donovan who died on Friday May 17, 2024. Donovan was a life-long resident of East Providence, RI where he raised six children and was known to thousands as a beloved teacher, mentor, volunteer and much more. Until his passing, he lived in the same large house where he and his late wife Lois raised their family. Lois Donovan died in 2006. Just before Mrs. Donovan passed, the couple celebrated their 50th anniversary. George Donovan continued to live alone in their spacious home near East Providence City Hall. During a visit with him a few years ago, Donovan explained why he remained in the home. "I really should move into something easier to manage, but I just like this house. It's big and I love it here," said Donovan. "There is plenty of room when the kids and grandchildren visit and stay over," he smiled. The home in the shadows of City Hall, has a warm and loving feel about it. Confined pretty much to the home’s first floor recently, family members made daily wellness checks and brought in his meals. Donovan, a retired history teacher sparkled the most when telling stories about his large extended family. The six Donovan children live outside of East Providence now. "Three live out-of-state and three live in Rhode Island. They all did so well," Donovan recalled as he touted their various business, education and military careers. He was also quick to tell loving anecdotes about his grandchildren.

Donovan retired from teaching at East Providence High School in 1986, after a 30-year career. He began teaching at Central Junior High (now E.R. Martin Middle) in 1956 and then went to East Providence High School and remained there until retirement. "I taught history and then finished my career as the AV (audio-visual) instructional media specialist.” He was a prior recipient of the East Providence 'Outstanding Educator' award. “The high school had just opened when I started teaching there. It was beautiful. The best in R.I. It was such a pleasure to work there," he said. Donovan organized and was instrumental in the weekly assemblies held at the high school. “They (assemblies) were informative, fun and brought the whole school together every week - twice when we had double sessions.” After moving from teaching history, Donovan became the energetic pulse of the school’s fledgling audio-visual center. He provided the sound and visual effects for the many music and art programs held in the 1200 seat PPAC-like school auditorium. He introduced many innovative ideas, including a couple that were vetoed by school administration. “Yeah, for one musical I wanted to have a performer ride a zip-line to the stage from the upper projection booth. Administration nixed the idea. They were probably right,” Donovan chuckled. During a performance of ‘Grease,’ he arranged to have a car brought on the stage. “We cleared it with the fire department once we drained the gas tank. It was a big hit.”

Donovan was the first to bring videos of school sporting events and other activities to the community. He would video tape games and recruit teachers and others to provide commentary. The games would be broadcast over cable television. He was a chairman of the East Providence Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Cable Television, and a member of the State Advisory Council for Cable TV. He led volunteers in videotaping City Council, School Committee, Zoning Board and many other community meetings and events for public broadcast. When he switched from teaching history to coordinating audio-visual needs, he almost single handedly retrofitted the high school for technology. He took the 16 mm cameras and projectors and transformed the high schools pre-computer technology. “We started to capitalize on the coming of cable TV in the city," he recounted. He knew that the laws governing cable television required the industry to help schools with the technology and he made sure all schools benefitted. Eventually, every school in East Providence was set up for video broadcasting between each other and the potential existed for much more. Production of holiday concerts, sporting events, public meetings and more were all part of Donovan's vision to connect the community to the schools.

Donovan was also a part time news photographer for Channel 10 television. "I worked a lot of hours, a lot of summers for Channel 10 news. It was a busy news time during the '60s and '70s. I was often assigned to cover the Nixon administration and Senators Pell and Pastore. Chafee was the Navy Secretary. I had to go to Washington DC often," Donovan recalled.

He used his videotaping and photographing skills to assist the East Providence Fire Department with training films and actual training exercises. He has gone out on hundreds of fire and police runs, “filming where appropriate,” in order to produce training films and archive footage. Most of this was done before the current availability of computers and digital technology. "I would grab my video camera and get out to a fire or disaster after monitoring the fire and police radios," he explained. "Not that I liked watching fires, but I saw my photography as a follow-up way to help with training efforts, etc." In 1962 he was named the "official photographer" of the East Providence Fire Department. It was a "no-pay" job, but Donovan spent hours helping the department in many ways. "I still have the I.D. card the Chief gave me in 1962," he said as he produced the card he carried in his wallet every day.

Donovan is a World War II veteran. With the war raging on, he and his twin brother James, left school and enlisted in the Coast Guard to help in the war effort. He saw duty in the Southwest Pacific and the North Atlantic from 1945 to 1948. Donovan served on ships and islands and was a radio operator on the North Atlantic Weather and Ice Patrol. After the war, Rhode Island had a special program for its veterans returning home, to earn their high school diploma. “We were assigned to a program of study at Central High School if we wanted to finish school. After completing the courses, we were given our diploma.” "Later after graduating from URI, he was hired by East Providence to teach.

In retirement Donovan spent much of his time coordinating the efforts of the 'Special Signal Fire Association' of Rhode Island - also known as "The Canteen". A group of volunteers, mostly retired fire and police type have been providing extended incident assistance for Fire, Police, State, and Federal agencies. The group has been serving the First Responders of Southern New England since 1968. "The heavy gear worn by firefighters combined with their physical exertion causes cardiac stress and dehydration, etc.", explained Donovan. "Our canteen helps to rotate out the men for periodic rest and health checks. We provide water and energy drinks. A bowl of hot beef stew is a welcomed need to an ice-covered firefighter," added Donovan.

When still teaching at EPHS, Donovan was a charter member and leader of the city's first task force to provide Emergency Response Planning for the schools, fire and police. School officials involved with Donovan often marveled at the amount of expertise he brought to the table. Donovan was instrumental in providing the city's first Emergency Response Plan. He led a team of school, police and fire officials which conducted unannounced drills in all schools.

George Donovan, called East Providence’s ‘Mister Rogers’ by some, was recently inducted into the East Providence High School Hall of Fame. Although his passing came before the induction ceremony in October, he was recently informed about the induction. "He was very humbled by this news when a few of us visited his home to inform him," said HOF board member Bob Rodericks. "I'm saddened that George won't be in attendance at the ceremony but I'm happy that he knew about it. Ninety-six is a good long life, but we will still miss him a lot."

Whether it was leaving high school to answer his nation's call to action during World War II or teaching the young people of East Providence or helping to provide respite and training to the area's emergency responders, George Donovan was truly an extraordinary citizen and a Townie. A devoted husband of over 50 years and loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather to a large family. To thousands of admirers, he was simply a wonderful man, a beloved example of Townie Pride.

(George Donovan is survived by three daughters: CDR Maureen E Davidovich, USN (ret) of Lyons, CO; Kathleen M Cournoyer of Cranston, RI; and Kristine M Gannon of Longmont, CO; and three sons: Michael J Donovan of Fairfax, VA; Stephen R Donovan of East Providence, RI; and Timothy J Donovan of Warwick, RI. He is also survived by ten grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. His Funeral and Calling Hours will be held in the W. RAYMOND WATSON FUNERAL HOME, 350 Willett Avenue, Riverside followed by a Mass of Christian Burial in Sacred Heart Church, Taunton Avenue, East Providence on a date and time to be announced shortly. Burial with Military Honors will follow in Mount Saint Mary’s Cemetery, Prospect Street, Pawtucket)

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