The Leader of the Pack

Good morning readers!

I mentioned a little while back that I would be doing a blog about my parents. I couldn’t put them both in one blog because that’s just too much crazy in one place. So, I’m going to do a blog about the whole family, but separately. Consider it like getting to know your characters. I think it will add to the stories if you know a little more about them.  So with that being said, let’s start with my dad…..


My dad was the third of four kids and the only boy. Both his parents were 100% Irish. He grew up in the house that was the first row home that eventually became part of our funeral home (His father kept their house separate from the funeral home, unlike us.) He went to St. Alice grade school, West Catholic High School in Philadelphia, and then went to the University of Notre Dame where he majored in philosophy.

He was really smart and really funny. He made the whole family laugh with his quick wit, sarcasm and impressions. He could imitate anyone, would do accents and generally make fun of people. I really think he should have been in comedy or entertainment.

Whenever my parents would have people over they would always ask him to tell jokes. He had great timing and loved an audience. So maybe there’s a genetic element to the performing thing… he liked it too.

He also had an incredible sense of humor about the business and could see the funny in the darkest situations. A lot of people probably didn’t know what a great sense of humor he had, just the people close to him, like friends and family. Most people probably saw him as the nice and generous man that he was. He was also a real PR junkie. He made friends with everyone and would stop and talk to anyone he knew on the street or at the post office or wherever he went. When he was trying to build the business he joined a lot of organizations to meet and network with people. Hey, you never know when you’re going to need a funeral director, right? He joined Toastmasters and had a bunch of trophies and awards on the shelves in the living room for speeches he had given. I didn’t find out until years later that they were for comedic speeches. I wouldn’t be describing him accurately if I didn’t mention that he had a psycho side that we knew not to mess with, especially when it came to the business. You know that people who willingly handle dead bodies have to be a little crazier than the rest of us.

It’s too bad that my mom and dad had kids so quickly because maybe he would’ve ended up doing something that was more fun, but I know he got a lot of satisfaction from helping the people he did. He was so good at his job and I think people really appreciated his kindness and sensitivity at such a difficult time…not to mention his makeup skills.

In spite of the constant stress he was under, he always made time to take us fun places like the golf course to go sledding or picnics at Upper Darby Park and down the shore in the summer, yes the Jersey Shore, which people have gotten the wrong idea about thanks to that stupid show. When that show started a lot of Italian people were complaining because they said it was giving Italians a bad reputation, and I remember thinking; what’s worse is that they’re giving the Jersey shore a bad reputation. My dad’s mom had a great house in Ocean City, which she passed down to my aunts and is still enjoyed by the extensive Donohue clan today. Anyway, if we weren’t going to the shore, sometimes, we’d just have our little ghetto barbeque on the back porch with a hibachi grill. But kids love that shit.

One of my favorite things when we were little was when my dad would come upstairs after a funeral and had a couple of hoagies and a six pack. My mom was usually in bed, so whatever kids got up would get a piece of a hoagie and a Dixie cup full of beer. A hoagie and a beer at six years old, does it get any better?

Eventually the stress of the funeral business took its toll and he had his first open heart surgery at 49. It was really scary because he almost died. I also think having to emotionally detach all the time wasn’t healthy. Funeral directors have a high alcoholism rate and I understand why. My dad wasn’t a big drinker but for a while during our teen years, he was having a few drinks every night. Years later when he had to stop drinking all together because of his heart, he told us that he didn’t ever really like drinking that much, but he did it to numb himself.

Ten years almost to the day after his first heart surgery, he had his second one. I don’t know how he got through it, that takes a lot of will and determination I think.  But he got better and after a few years he decided it was time to sell the business. He had it for 30 years and I think he and my mom were just tired of dealing with the stress of it and were ready to retire. They sold it to another funeral home but kept the name for business reasons. My parents retired to Maine. I forgot to tell you that in 1980 my parents bought a house in a town called “The Middle of Fucking Nowhere.”

At first they had considered buying a home down the Jersey Shore, but the prices were outrageous and we had gone to Maine a few times on family vacations and everyone liked it. They got a good deal on the house, and it’s no wonder because you probably get good mortgage rates on houses you can’t find. Seriously, if a celebrity wanted to hide from the paparazzi, they should stay at my parent’s house. It’s a beautiful house and it’s in a small town in Maine. There’s a nice view of the ocean and mountains and a more than a few hillbillies live close by. Maine has lots of those.

A few years after my dad retired, his health started to slowly go downhill. He was on medication for different things and I think after a long time and having a weakened heart from his two open heart surgeries, his body couldn’t take much more. He passed away this past February and it’s a huge loss to the family. He was the Master of Ceremonies, the Entertainer, the Leader, and we all miss him so much.

He was always really supportive of me and proud of everything I’ve done. I miss telling him my latest jokes and the jokes he would give me. His jokes always got laughs when I told them on stage. We also used to talk on the phone the day after the Oscars every year and make fun of everyone. He loved entertainment and knew who all the celebrities were.

Always able to laugh at the dark side, I called him one time and he asked how I was and I started telling him how shitty my life was. I said, “I hate my job, I have no money, I need a new car, I hate my clothes, I hate my hair and I hate my life…”

He listened to me until I was done whining and then he said, “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” 🙂

Have a great weekend!

(this is before they got married and stayed married for 46 years)

We look normal, right?

About Death To Hollywood

My name is Celeste Donohue and I am a writer/comedian who started this blog to tell stories about my life growing up in a funeral home and my adult life which I have spent in Hollywood, California – hence the name, “Death To Hollywood”. Hopefully, you like to read those kinds of stories. If not, go read something serious and boring.....
This entry was posted in death, family, funeral home, funerals and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Leader of the Pack

  1. "the elder sister" says:

    God Cee, I really really miss him……. he was a wonderful compasionate man and he loved us so much, we were lucky to have him as long as we did.

  2. Great tribute to your dad! He was a great guy and am sure he is totally proud of you! I had no idea he grew up on Copley…no wonder he wanted to move to The Middle of Fucking Nowhere!

  3. Kris says:

    Cee….you really summed dad up well! He was the master of ceremonies, leader of the pack, a great man, a gentleman, great joke teller….. And so much more…I miss him so much!

  4. Mr Maryknoll says:

    That was nice, C. But I do think you could have thrown a bone to that other great educational institution he attended. After all, it contributed mightily to all those papist values your mother loved so much.

    • Ahhh! HOw did I leave that out? That’s how he knew so much about the Bible….he told me Moses got lost for 40 years in a place the size of New Jersey, so we laughed about how stupid Moses was. 🙂

  5. Josephine says:

    A great Dad who worked hard and made you laugh. Wonderful.

    We went to the Jersey shore,too!, not surprising since I grew up in NJ. Mr. J always teases me that I might have met Bruce Springsteen running around in my sandy bathing suit digging for sand crabs in Asbury Park. We also went to Lavallette. And I agree that the “Jersey Shore” crowd is ruining the shore more than slamming Italians since most of them aren’t even Italian, are they? At least I thought most of them aren’t Italian. I hope so. We have enough trouble with the mob. 🙂

  6. Maddie says:

    Oh my god, Cee. I laughed, I cried……I’m still crying…..good stuff. This is a “keeper” as we hillbillies here in ME say!
    Write on!

  7. bernice kurowski says:

    Celeste, I laughed so long and so hard about the “house in the middle of fucking nowhere” ! Of course, I am mostly crying and filled to overflowing with emotion and love for our dear friend ! Your writing really did capture John ! I can hear and see so much of it all. Love you all.

  8. mdonohue says:

    Dear,Celeste,Your Father was always so proud of all of you,Especially knowing he had a continuous audience.That had to be a hard article to write,but it was beautiful,and the only correction I can make through my tears,is that we were married for 49 years.I wish I could tell you how much I miss ,my boyfriend.Love,Mom

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