Farewell to a Friend & Colleague


A friend and colleague died recently.  Joe Donovan was one of the influencers in higher ed PR in our Boomer generation.

Joe, who was the PR guru at Thomas Jefferson University, then LaSalle, was one of those very rare guys who always had a joke and told it well.

He was part of a small band headed by Penn State PR giant Art Ciervo that created the College and University Public Relations & Associated Professionals (CUPRAP).

I served on the CUPRAP board twice, the first time with Joe.  In the board room he was quiet, thoughtful and serious when the time called for it, then lightened things up when got too serious.   He helped set the direction of the organization which has since grown to encompass higher ed PR, publications and web professionals from several states.

It is the largest and probably the most respected organization of its kind in the U.S.

I write this because we tend to forget the Joe Donovans of the world.  They’re the quiet ones who are all about sharing, even with the newest of newcomers.  At conferences, Joe was the guy walking around to the young professionals, introducing himself and listening with intense interest to their stories and making them instantly feel part of the organization.

In the 25 years I knew him, I never heard Joe say a bad word about anyone.  And I never heard anyone speak ill of him.

My friend and colleague Dick Jones of Dick Jones Communications, was also on the ground floor of CUPRAP and worked closely with Joe for two decades.

“Joe D. was a raconteur,” he says.  “He knew how to tell a story like a professional story teller which he was, of course.   We all are story tellers, in this business of higher education public relations.

“Some are more effective than others, though, and Joe was one of the best.  Like most funny people, he was a serious, substantive man.  And if you needed advice, or sympathy, he was there for you, after a few laugh-producing stories, of course.

“He was highly respected in his home region of Philadelphia and around the state.  Although a funny man, he was not a clown, never that, in any respect.  He was a professional who knew his craft and everyone who worked with him recognized that.  Joe was perhaps the perfect example of the man who takes his work seriously but never, never, himself.”

People like Joe quietly share and help turn a vision into reality.  His intensity and commitment were softened by that mischievous and wise sense of humor that made you want to be near him, share his vision and work with him.

People like Joe are always too suddenly gone and with him that sense of life, laughter and celebrating one’s accomplishments with others.

I count my blessings that I worked with Joe, learned from him and shared jokes and stories.  I  I will remember him and look for a new Joe in the younger generations working their way up.  I know they are out there — folks with that humor, heart and intellect — but they are indeed rare.

Dick summed up Joe’s life.  “He was absolutely wonderful.  I can’t think of him without smiling.”

My sentiments exactly.

Thank you, Joe.  Where ever you are, I know there is warmth and laughter.




9 responses to “Farewell to a Friend & Colleague

  1. I did not know Joe as well or as long as many of my CUPRAP colleagues. But, in my 18 years, I found Joe to be a kind, fun person willing to help anyone out. Always brought a smile to anyone in the room. One of the good guys.

  2. ” At conferences, Joe was the guy walking around to the young professionals, introducing himself and listening with intense interest to their stories and making them instantly feel part of the organization.”

    This is how I’ll remember Joe. I didn’t know him as long as most of you have, but I’ll always remember how he welcomed me into the organization more than eight years ago as a young professional, two months into my first job.

    It was an honor to know him and be touched by his humor and kindness, if only for a brief time.

  3. Well said, Dennis. Joe was part of the “inner circle” at CUPRAP – talented professionals who had worked and volunteered together for years and who enjoyed each others’ company immensely, but he always made sure to make newcomers feel welcome. He was kind and caring as well as very funny.

  4. I never got a chance to work with Joe, but he was one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Rest in Peace, Joe.

  5. Joe was a legend, not in his mind, but in the eyes of his many appreciative and admiring colleagues. During my 11 years in Pennsylvania, he was an ambassador for the state, an invaluable mentor in CUPRAP and THE best storyteller I ever encountered. Thank you, Joe, for great memories and for enriching so many lives.

  6. We miss Joe: his ability to make anyone instantly feel welcome and comfortable, his never-ending supply of good humor and his insight into trends in the business. He was a true ambassador for CUPRAP and the annual conference at Hershey simply isn’t the same without him.

    Thanks so much for doing this Dennis.

  7. Michael Donovan

    I want to thank you for writing this, Dennis. It is such a pleasure to hear accounts like these of Dad’s life. You don’t get to witness your parents in their professional lives (unless you work with them, which I did not). He was as good a family man as he was a colleague.

  8. As a friend and colleague of Joe’s at Jefferson, I want to thank you, Dennis, for your tribute to Joe and for expressing so well the thoughts and sentiments of those of us who were privileged to know and work with him. As a colleague, Joe’s quick wit and charm made even the most difficult workday a pleasure. As a friend, his genuine concern for others brightened the lives of all who knew him. We will miss him dearly and remember him always.

  9. It was a privilege to work with Joe at La Salle and an even greater honor to know him. He had the brightest eyes; they were happy, mischievous, patient, kind, warm and most of all – always understanding. He would always brighten any room. He was a treasure and will be sorely missed.

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