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Shawn M. Donovan

Published: 3/11/2018 3:00:20 AM
Modified: 3/11/2018 3:00:21 AM

Lebanon, N.H. — Shawn M. Donovan, 70, died unexpectedly on Feb. 19, 2018. He was born July 13, 1947, in Cambridge,  Mass., son of Robert E. and Mary (Dowling) Donovan. He grew up in Arlington, Mass., and spent summers at Goose Rocks Beach, ME. He was a graduate of Xavier High School in Concord, Mass., and Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. 

  During his Jesuit high school years, Shawn became a devotee of Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence and Truth Force. He left Holy Cross during spring term of his senior year after the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, moving to Dorchester, Mass., to join the resistance movement against the war in Viet Nam. He participated in non-violent actions designed to disrupt the draft by destroying records at Selective Service offices in Federal Buildings, part of what FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover termed The East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives.    

   When the war was over Shawn became involved with the Catholic Worker movement, spending time with Dorothy Day in New York City. He returned to Worcester, took a night shift job at the Worcester State Hospital and spent days working with friends to create a Catholic Worker storefront drop-in center called the Mustard Seed in a low-income downtown neighborhood.  It opened in the fall of 1972 and continues to this day, a soup kitchen offering an evening meal each day, supported by ecumenical churches, businesses and individuals throughout central Massachusetts.  

  While living in Dorchester, Shawn met Margaret Bragg, then a graduate student at Boston University. They were married in the summer of 1973 and shared 25 years together. In 1975 they moved to a farm in rural New Hampshire, spending that fall picking apples with a Greenleaf Harvesters crew in Contoocook and learning to contradance. Over the next six years, Shawn worked construction and became an accomplished carpenter. He also learned to grow vegetables, split wood, tap maple trees, and milk goats and was the proud owner of a vintage John Deere B tractor. In 1978 he began work at Antioch New England in Keene, on his M.S. in Regional Planning and Administration. The following year their son, Elias, was born. 

   In 1981, degree in hand, Shawn accepted a job with DuBois and King, Inc. in Randolph, Vt., and the family moved to the Upper Valley. Their daughter, Sarah Rose, was born three years later.

   His planning career took Shawn to positions at Dartmouth College and several environmental and civil engineering consulting firms in the Upper Valley and Massachusetts. He worked on transportation, infrastructure and land development projects including DHMC, the Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College, the circumferential highway around Burlington, Vt., and Rouses Point Bridge across Lake Champlain.

   Shawn immersed himself in the Upper Valley community, sharing his professional knowledge and skills by serving on the Hanover Planning Board, the Board of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, and the Board of Advance Transit where he coordinated the development of the Hanover shuttle bus system serving Dartmouth College, DHMC and the Town of Hanover.  In 2002 he co-founded the Upper Valley Transportation Management Association, now a part of Vital Communities.  An environmentalist who enjoyed hiking and cross-country skiing, Shawn also served on the Board of the Hanover Conservation Council (now the Hanover Conservancy) for five years, then continued for many years on the Lands Committee. He also volunteered as an advisor to Willing Hands, educating himself about commercial vegetable storage and scoping out potential locations for a new facility for trucks and gleaned produce,   

   Pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity gave Shawn great joy. He was on the board of the Upper Valley chapter and participated in the construction of several Habitat homes locally. One of his peak life experiences was travelling in 1994 to the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, S.D., where 1200 volunteers, including former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Roslyn, lived in tents for a week and constructed thirty homes. He loved working along side his son, Elias, and his Brown University classmates on a Habitat project in East Providence during the winter of 2000-2001.

   In 2010, Shawn  became an advocate for Hartford Dismas House, a half-way house that helps non-violent offenders make a smooth re-entry to society. He guided the organization through permitting and served as project manager for the facility which opened its doors in March 2014. He also became involved in the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a volunteer-facilitated program that teaches inmates how to reduce violence by introducing them to alternative ways of resolving conflict and spent time at prisons in Norfolk and Gardner, Mass. In 2014 the Hanover Coop honored him with the Allen and Nan King Community Service Award.

   Shawn’s spiritual journey included many years with the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley (UUCUV) beginning in the mid 1980’s; he served as its first president. In recent years he was project manager for the expansion/renovation of their meeting house in Norwich, Vt.

   Fifteen years ago Shawn became a member of Hanover Friends Meeting, drawing strength from what he termed  “a community of Friends and friends”.  He led the process of introducing the Sanctuary movement to Hanover Friends Meeting and participated in monthly vigils at the Immigration and Customs (ICE) offices at the federal building in Manchester, N.H. In the fall of 2015 he travelled to Cuba with a group of Friends.

   Shawn loved to read, particularly history, philosophy and religion. He had a passion for good food and for cooking. He experimented with dishes from all cultures and enjoyed preparing meals for guests in his home, as well as participating in community cooking for the Mustard Seed, LISTEN and Dismas House. He had an unfulfilled dream of being a student at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland.

   Shawn is survived by his son, Elias Donovan, and daughter, Sarah Bragg-Donovan; his sisters Gail Donovan of Providence, R.I., and Kathleen Dur of New York City; brothers Brendan Donovan and his wife Marion of Kennebunkport, ME, and Robert Donovan and his wife Carolyn of Cordillera, Colo.; two generations of nieces and nephews; his former wife and good friend, Margaret Bragg, and his close friend and neighbor Peter Scoppettone.

   In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Hartford Dismas House, P.O. Box 174, Hartford, VT, 05047 or the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker, 93 Piedmont Street, Worcester, MA, 01609.

   A memorial Meeting for Worship will take place on Saturday April 21, at 2 p.m. in Rollins Chapel at Dartmouth College. 

   There will be a Mass of Thanksgiving for Shawn’s life at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., on Saturday June 9th.


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