Thursday, June 5, 2014
James F. Donnery II: 1950 to 2014
"See, some people call this place here the bar. Others just call it Guinan's. I call it my riverside chapel." -- Jim Donnery, Winter 2001
His license plate said "Irishman." So it was fitting to first meet Jim in the green-walled pub of Guinan's. It was freezing outside, but warm in there. Jim made it warmer with his big booming voice that signaled friendship from the first word, even to a stranger. It happened to be me that night, tiptoeing into the sacred after-hours world of the little chapel for the first time, but I could have been anybody. That's just the way Jim was - he was kind. To people he knew, and those he didn't.
Jim was born on Christmas Eve in 1950 in Cornwall-on-Hudson, according to his obituary. When he was small, his Mom, Dorothy, would drive him down to the river banks to watch the tankers and freighters go by. Before Guinan's was Guinan's, his father as a kid used to row his boat across the river to buy candy and soda at the store.
To say Jim was connected to Guinan's is like saying beer was served there. It was just a fundamental truth. He made it down to the pub from Syracuse where he lived as an adult roughly every six weeks, first picking up his mom to bring her along too. She sipped Michelob Light, very cold, in the corner and spoke only when she really had something to say. When she got tired, she'd go sleep in the car. In the winter, she brought a blanket. Jim always took care of her. That's the way Jim was - he was loyal. To his family, and to his friends. Friends like Frank P. Hanes III (pictured w/ Jim above) who cycled 4300 miles across the United States to raise money for prostate cancer after his pal Jim was diagnosed.
Jim is survived by his wife of 35 years, Gail, who graciously shared him with his Guinan's family. They spent his last years traveling and seizing the day. We followed their escapades on Facebook where Jim shared pictures of their journey with us all. That's just the way Jim was - he shared. Indeed, I'd guess he shared something with just about everyone he met.
Tonight and tomorrow those of us who are his Guinan's family will say an official goodbye. We will thank him in our own private ways. We will thank him for being kind, for being loyal and for sharing. I will thank him for inspiring the title of Little Chapel on the River and for welcoming one more stranger into the core of the Friday Night Parishioners.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his memory to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.