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Remembering "Jiggs" Donahue. Story by Dan Lovallo.

POSTED July 02, 2014
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney


WHO WAS JIGGS DONAHUE AND WHY DID THEY NAME A PARK AFTER HIM?

Tucked away, behind a church converted into a house on Torrington's East Pearl Street, is a playground with a neatly kept basketball court and well-manicured field. 

The park is maintained by the city's Parks and Recreation Department. A sign greets visitors. 

"JIGGS DONAHUE PARK," it reads in bold letters.

On this hot, almost sultry, early summer day, there are no kids playing in the playground, even though the school year ended two weeks ago.  

Temperatures make a difference, I guess. In my youth, they did not. 

No matter how hot, we played baseball, whiffle-ball or some kind of ball from morning until night, jamming the playgrounds placed strategically across Torrington, including Jiggs Donahue Park.

Computers and video games in air conditioned homes seem to be the more popular activities these days.  

What would Jiggs Donahue think? Better yet, who was Jiggs Donahue? 

Guaranteed today's youth don't know?  

Heck, I didn't know. 

Turns out William J. "Jiggs" Donahue was an important guy around town in the 1930's, 40's and early 50's, and he wasn't even from Torrington. Donahue grew up in Waterbury and attended Crosby High School. In his youth, he delivered newspapers. Do kids do that today?

Upon graduation, Donahue landed a job in the mail room as a copy boy for the Waterbury American, the afternoon sister publication to the morning Waterbury Republican newspaper. Yes, they had afternoon newspapers back then.

Donahue worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming a prominent editor at the Republican.  Along the way, however, he covered Torrington news for the Republican and became so enamored with the city that he moved there. Not only did he continue to work for the paper, he formed a partnership with Thomas A. Cooke to buy a grocery store on Torrington's South Main St. 

Before that, he became chairman of Torrington's Park and Recreation Commission from 1937 to 1944.  In fact, "Jiggs" received credit for being the driving force that led to numerous improvements of the city's parks and playgrounds, all for the city's youth.

Sadly, in February 1953, Donahue's life came to a tragic end, when he was fatally injured in an out-of-state automobile accident. 

According to newspaper accounts, his car slammed into the rear end of a truck at 4:45 a.m. on Route 40 in Perrysville, MD. 

He was en route to the National Association of Press Photographers Ball in Washington, DC. 

"Jiggs" Donahue was only 41.

The news of his death spread through the city quickly. 

"The death of Mr. Donahue comes as a shock to the city of Torrington. He will be remembered as an outstanding journalist and as a sincere citizen interested in all community affairs," Torrington Mayor Frederick P. Daley said.

Newspaper accounts of his death stated "Jiggs" had "many friends in Torrington, Waterbury and throughout the state."

In his memory, the city fathers deemed it appropriate to name a playground after the man who had done so much for Torrington's youth.

I wonder what "Jiggs" would think today; his neatly manicured playground, sitting empty on a beautiful summer day?

Maybe when school returns, some enterprising teacher will hand out an assignment, asking students to do some research on "Jiggs" Donahue.  

It would be even better, if those same students would wander over to the playground, behind the church-turned-house. A basketball court and well-manicured field are begging for a visit; that would have made "Jiggs" Donahue smile. 

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