Ginny Donahue, center, is flanked by her two friends, Lil Cromer on the left and Nancy Reardon. They call themselves the Three Musketeers.
BELLEAIR – Among the many people who attend Town Commission meetings regularly was Ginny Donahue. She could be counted on to have something to say and that something, regardless of the subject, had the mayor and commissioners listening intently.
In the past several months, despite health issues slowing her down, Donahue still had something to say. She kept questioning and probing even when town officials had to bring the microphone to her chair, always in the front row.
Sadly, for many, Ginny Donahue has left town. Because of failing health her family in New England begged her to move closer to them and she has; she’s moved into an assisted living facility in Tiverton, R.I.
For Donahue the move back to New England brings her life full circle. She was born and brought up in Massachusetts. She had a 23-year career in management with IBM before she retired and moved to Florida. It was her career she said that moved her to community activism.
“I worked all my life in a male dominated industry,” she said. “I had to hold my own. Women, everybody really, has to learn to stand up for what they think is right. I was able to make decisions and to see what the right direction for the company was. I was able to set a direction.”
Donahue moved to Belleair in 2004 and it wasn’t long before she got involved. In 2005 the town was considering firing Progress Energy as the town’s supplier of power and establishing a town-owned power company. Donahue was dead set against it and fought it until the notion was defeated.
In 2006 she ran for a seat on the town Commission but lost by nine votes. Her friend, Lil Cromer, laughingly wonders to this day if her suggested slogan, “Win with Gin” might have made a difference if it had been adopted.
Donahue wasn’t finished, however. Soon after the election she was appointed to the town’s finance board. She counts that as a major achievement in her life.
“I was particularly proud to be on the finance board,” she said. “Mayor Gary Katica appointed me to the board. It was one of the best things I did. I saw the finance board as a way of keeping an eye on the money. Tom Olson was the chairman and we worked well together. God love Tom Olson; he is one of the best men I ever met, I have a lot of respect for him. He listens, which a lot of other people don’t do.”
Olson was just as effusive with his praise for Donahue. He called her a delightful addition to the finance board.
“She wasn’t buffaloed by anything,” he said. “Someone would make a presentation to us and she’d ask the pertinent questions and if they didn’t know what they were doing she could make them look like a phony. She knew how to get to the heart of the matter.”
Olson said like so many others, he was going to miss her.
“She is fun to be with. Whiz-bang is an old term from the ’30s and I can’t think of a better term for her,” Olson said.
So what drove Donahue to be so involved? She had to pause for a moment when asked that question, then said it had to do with her heritage.
“I’m not being flip when I say this,” she said. “I’m Irish and the Irish are born politicians, they get involved. I watched politics all my life growing up, a corrupt politician here, and a shady sheriff there. And every Sunday my father would sit around the dinner table and argue politics the whole time.”
“It is in my bones I guess, if you want to change things stop beefing about it and do it. That was my motivation,” she said.
Her life in Belleair was much more than giving the local politicians headaches. She had a number of close friends, such as Nancy Reardon and Lil Cromer, who kept seeing her regularly until the time she left.
“We called ourselves the Three Musketeers,” said Donahue. “We have been involved in many battles over the years and we’d often go out after meetings for some relaxation.”
Reardon, who drove Donahue to Commission meetings week after week, can’t believe her friend is leaving.
“We’re going to miss her terribly,” she said. “We’d spend hours talking about her life and the things she did and the places she worked. We’d talk about her family, her values. It is going to be a real loss in our lives that she has moved. We’ll keep connected except it will be a phone call instead of a visit.”
Reardon said her 3-year-old grandson, Jackson, was particularly fond of Donahue and the feeling was mutual.
“We’d go visit her and he’d run over and give her a kiss, then he’d grab her hand and lead her over to the piano and she would sit down and play it for him,” she said. “It was like watching somebody’s face fill with joy and laughter, the two of them. Now I’m going to have to explain to Jackson why she has moved so far away.”
Cromer, who is never stuck for a critical word herself, realized early on that she was going to befriend Donahue.
“We were on the same page realizing how foolish the town was in trying to take over the power company,” she said. “Ginny actually went downtown and studied the grid system so she’d know what she was talking about. I said that is who I want to align myself with.”
Cromer said Donahue was involved in much more than just politics.
“She was involved in her church and she belonged to a women’s group of female business people. Good things happened because of her,” she said.
On Dec. 5, the day of special recognition for Donahue, she reflected on her future and the move back to New England. She couldn’t hold back the tears.
“My family is pressing me to go up there; I’m going to have to go. I don’t want to but … I will miss Belleair, I’ll miss my friends.”
Then later Donahue, and dozens of her friends, gathered in her assisted living facility where Mayor Katica presented her with an official Belleair Proclamation, which read in part:
“We do hereby recognize Virginia ‘Ginny’ Donahue as a valued member of the community and wish to express deep thanks and appreciation for her service and loyalty to the Town of Belleair. We wish to express best wishes and good luck to our dear friend.”