As Dad worked to stay alive I told Dad I would post here.

He would smile, “Then I will help others and will be with Kevin.”

Dad would then smile a brave smile as his body became weaker, and the strong-willed spirit that Kevin and I knew — Dad looked to me — and Dad would wink.

Dad, veteran, medic, and diagnosed with hep C, HCV, requested that I post this fact on Kevin’s, his youngest son’s website.  “It’s not natural that a child dies before a parent.  Your mother and I never recovered from his death.  Never.”

      “Why write here now? 

I gave Captain Kevin, my brother, and Sergeant Emmett, my dad, my Word.”

Kevin’s Sister

HV with HCV = Helping Veterans and Families with Hep C

One Salute At A Time

Tribute to Emmett James Donnelly

April 11, 1928 – September 23, 2011

 By Monette Benoit


Emmett James Donnelly graduated from Fordham University and attended Fordham College of Education studying psychology, philosophy, and chemistry.  He completed his Master of Education degree at the University of Houston studying counseling and English literature.

Mr. Donnelly worked as a psychiatric social worker in an Army hospital before working as a social worker supervising foster children placements.

He was employed as a veteran’s education advisor prior to becoming a high school teacher in the Houston public school system, working with students who had dropped out of school, veterans, and newly returned veterans.

In New York, Emmett Donnelly taught junior high school science, math, English, and high school chemistry before becoming a high school guidance counselor.  For eight years he was in charge of the education records and college recommendations while serving as registrar.

He was the first person in the U.S. to “place a school on computer” to avoid, his words, “having to use handheld scantron sheets scheduling school districts for summer classes and fall enrollments.”  He fondly described the challenges of working with IBM in their earliest days.  His motivation?  Mr. Donnelly always said, “There was an abundant supply of teachers, and I decided I needed a unique way to keep my job and to support my family.”

He also taught high school equivalency classes to adults preparing for federal and state civil service examinations.

Emmett Donnelly retired after thirty-one years with the same school district, and began traveling the United States with his wife, Monette Drue Donnelly.

While traveling, Mr. Donnelly embarked on research for academic publications.  He contributed to a textbook, workbook, companion study guide, vocabulary workbook, and multiple handbooks (420 topics and half a million words, terms) preparing court reporters, students, and broadcast captioners for state and national board certification.

Mr. Donnelly attended college classes while traveling, auditing courses. He continued his studies in Latin, archeology (with digs), history, ancient languages, ham radio, geneology, Civil War, geology, astronomy, religions, ornithology, and a plethora of topics.  His motivation?  “To meet new people and to stay busy, busy, busy.”

He called himself a “desert rat” preferring Grand Canyon mountains and the desert terrain.  His family was relieved when he stopped riding his small motorcycle, as he frequently put a knapsack on his back, by himself, seeking new adventures within Indian Pueblo reservations and deep onto the desert.  Then, he continued to ride his bicycle on the hottest of days disappearing for hours before cell phones and GPS guidance systems were standard.  We would just shake our heads and laugh when we listened to the adventures that he shared when he reappeared thirsty, hungry, and eager to share.

Mr. Donnelly and his wife did not have a telephone for seventeen years of their RV, recreational vehicle, travels after they sold their home, gave away the majority of their possessions and “began to chase sunrises and sunsets.”

They phoned family members when they saw phone booths ‘with seats.”  If the phone booth had a door and a seat, they phoned saying, “I know this is prime time.  I’m paying long distance, so this will be short, and we don’t have to swat the bugs and mosquitoes that appear at sunset when we usually call.”

He compiled “itineraries” covering multiple weeks and various destinations, mailing them to members of his family.  Frequently, he diverted away from their itinerary “because I could that’s why.”  A mail-forwarding service collected Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly’s mail and forwarded them to new locations upon their request.

December 2006, Mr. Donnelly decided it was time to “meet new people and to see how I may help others.”  He volunteered as a Blue Vest at the Guadalupe Regional Medical Center, GRMC, Seguin, Texas, logging 350 hours with only a sampling of his time “helping others in need, and I get to meet the most fascinating people!”

Mr. Donnelly volunteered while visiting his family in Texas as he and his wife continued to travel until July 2010 after traveling twenty-five years to 48 states, heading out to new areas, often returning to the Grand Canyon, and back to Tucson ‘to my second home.”

His first assignment was in the Emergency Room and “I was so successful in helping others that they laid me off – the volunteer! – and hired two people to replace me.”

Mr. Donnelly then was transferred to “Volunteer Liason” and “Patient Representative” working within the hospital, the medical floor, and front desk.  He worked behind the scenes as a Nurse – Patient Advocate.

Mr. Donnelly assisted individuals with wheelchairs, seeking to help each people.  When he saw people who were alone, he would volunteer to walk with them.  He entered rooms asking how he could help each person.  Often, he drove to a bookstore to purchase a requested book or magazine.  He purchased pens, paper and crossword puzzles.  He listened and assisted family members and patients as they were making hard decisions in their life.  Mr. Donnelly, always smiling when wearing the blue vest, used his counseling skills seeking what people truly wanted – while his toes tapped.

A brick is scheduled to be placed in a courtyard for Emmett Donnelly honoring his volunteer work.  We were told “Mr. Donnelly was always thoughtful and passionate about his patient work here.”  Yes, he was thoughtful and passionate about his travels with his wife of fifty-eight years and their unique adventures.  Passionate about each day.

Mr. Donnelly remained committed to the GRMC hospital, to the patients, and to staff until January 2011, when he ceased his volunteer work due to his declining health.  He kept his blue vest clean, ready, for the day when he would return to his work, to “adventures yet to appear.”

Soon thereafter, Mr. Donnelly was a patient in the hospital where he volunteered.  Often, he was admitted to the ER where he volunteered.  He was admitted to the medical and to the surgical floors where he had spent years assisting others.

He took his Latin studies, Roman History CDs, mp3 player and headset.  He traveled all hospital admissions with his eclectic music collection:  banjo music, operas, German marches, and his all-time favorite CD, “Zorba The Greek.”  His items were always on the windowsill “in case there’s a moment to learn something new.”

Everyone knew Mr. Donnelly:  nurses, techs, staff, housekeeping, cafeteria staff, Blue Vest volunteers, chaplains, priests, hospitalists, OR staff, physical therapy, occupational therapy, surgeons, and CEO (who had a nametag made for Mr. Donnelly with the words NEW YORK underneath for his New York Giants football team, which he wore with great pride).

Until his death, September 23, 2011, he continued to say, “I still have things I want to do.  Busy.  Busy.  Busy.  That’s me!”

This Father’s Day we miss you, Mr. Donnnelly, our first Father’s Day without you.

We miss your boisterous laugh, your grand sense of humor, always being on the go – always saying, “I will rest when I’m dead.  And I want the quote from Robert Louis Stevenson on my tombstone:  ‘I travel not to go anywhere.  But to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.’ Really.  Let’s go.  We’ve got things we need to do.  Hurry up!”

Thank you, Mr. Donnelly, for caring for so many whom you called your friend.  We, your family, really miss you, and we are proud to have shared so much of you with so many for so long.

With great love, Mrs. Monette Drue Donnelly, wife, and extended family to Mr. Donnelly, the gentleman whom we called Dad and Grand-Dad.

Mr. Donnelly’s obituary was printed in the Seguin, Texas, newspaper September 27, 2011.  His guest book is online at Tres Hewell Mortuary.  We invite you to join us and to share.