Northeastern University loses a coach and mentor in Joe Donahue

Courtesy: Northeastern University

October 13, 2011   

Boston Globe obituary

Joseph J. Donahue, a Northeastern University track & field legend and Hall of Famer, passed away on Monday morning, Oct. 10, 2011, after a long and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72 years old.

The South Boston native was known equally for his feats as a student-athlete and coach for Northeastern.

Donahue graduated from Northeastern in 1963 and earned a business degree before procuring his master’s degree from Boston State in 1970.

A four-year letterwinner for the Huskies under head coach Irwin Cohen, Donahue held records in both the 35-lb. weight throw and the hammer throw and finished in the top six at the New England Championship in both his junior and senior seasons. In 1961, Donahue was awarded the prestigious Northeastern Alumni Track Trophy that was given to the outstanding track & field competitors on the varsity squad. Donahue was also a prominent weight lifter in the New England area.

“Joe has been synonymous with Northeastern track & field for over 50 years as a student-athlete, active alumnus, Hall of Fame member, coach and mentor,” Northeastern Director of Athletics Peter Roby said. “His love of both track & field and the University were obvious to anyone who met Joe. He will be sorely missed by all of us at Northeastern and within the track & field community.”

Donahue’s success as a student-athlete carried over as Northeastern’s throwing coach. His tenure as a mentor for many generations of Husky throwers spanned immediately after graduation until his final day.

“Joe was a colleague, a friend, a big brother and a mentor for me,” Northeastern track & field coach Sherman Hart said. “I have known Joe for over 30 years and words cannot express how much he has done for the program as well as my development as a coach. Joe coached six throwers to All-American status (three men and three women) when he was on the staff. Fifteen years ago, when I was made head coach of both programs one of my first thoughts was to go get Joe out of retirement. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  He will be missed by all.”

Donahue’s achievements as a coach for the Huskies include six All-Americans, including Northeastern’s only national champion in program history, Boris Djerassi. Donahue led Djerassi to the 1975 national championship in the hammer throw with a mark of 225’8.

Most recently, Donahue was responsible for the success generated by throwers Zara Northover and Nate Hunter. Northover set the school and ECAC record in the shot put (55’0.75) and finished 10th at the NCAA Championship. She also represented her country of Jamaica at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.

Hunter was a two-time All-American and became just the fifth Husky to ever throw the shot put 60 feet indoors. Hunter was voted two-time CAA Male Athlete of the Year in track & field and a four-time conference champion in the shot put. Donahue mentored Hunter to an undefeated, four-year run in the shot put, including five New England Championships and NU’s first IC4A Outdoor Championship since 2004. Hunter qualified for a spot in the 2010 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships after setting the school record with a toss of 63’11.5 (19.49) at the Boston Indoor Games.

“Joe was one of those guys that I’ll never forget,” Hunter said. “ He and I go back over seven years together. We’ve always been connected in some capacity and we both ended up together at Northeastern. He is the most inspirational person I’ve been able to work with. He’s the type of guy that could solve any issue, whether it was in throwing or in life, with one sentence.”

“He’s touched so many people with his words and a lot people respect him for that; even those that never met Joe in person,” Hunter continued. “It is unreal how far his message traveled. He loved throwing and loved what he did. He would do anything for anyone. The happiest I would be when I was throwing at Northeastern is when I made Joe proud.”

In conjunction with his duties as a coach, he was a consultant to the United States Olympic team and was the co-director of the New England Olympic Track & Field Camp held at Brandeis University every summer. Donahue spoke at various NCAA, U.S Track & Field, Olympic Development Camp and high school clinics throughout the years.

Donahue’s achievements reached far beyond throwing for Northeastern. Donahue was a teacher for special needs students at Dorchester High School and was a behavioral consultant to teachers and administrators. He was also the director of special needs program at West Roxbury High School. Donahue was a member of the American Association for Counseling and Development and the American Mental Health Counselors Association.

Donahue is survived by his wife of 48 years, Josephine B. Small, and his three children, John, Michael and Patricia.  He is also survived by his six grandchildren, including John Donahue Jr., Patrick Donahue, Aidan Donahue, Sophie Donahue, Michael DuBry, and Kaitlyn DuBry.

Funeral Information:
Visiting hours will be on Thursday, October 13th, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Richardson-Gaffey Funeral Home (382 First Parish Rd., Scituate, Mass). A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in St. Mary of the Nativity Church (1 Kent St., Scituate, Mass.) on Friday, October 14th, at 11 a.m. followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery. For directions or to leave condolences, please visit:

richardsongaffeyfuneralome.com Richardson-Gaffey Funeral Home (781) 545-0196