Jackson County

Bob Donald Jr. had a way of helping others, getting them involved

KAREN NELSON/SUN HERALD 
 Dr. Bob Donald brings one of several functional candles he constructed to provide light and a little warmth for the homeless on cold nights in Pascagoula.
KAREN NELSON/SUN HERALD Dr. Bob Donald brings one of several functional candles he constructed to provide light and a little warmth for the homeless on cold nights in Pascagoula.

PASCAGOULA -- Dr. Bob Donald Jr. was in a giving profession as a medical doctor, but he also put together a legacy of community service that garnered a string of humanitarian and lifetime achievement awards, locally and nationally.

He did it by touching the lives of others.

Optimistic and funny, he had an uncanny ability to get people involved.

He pondered ways to help the homeless in Jackson County, some of them unconventional. He believed in helping the homeless where they live, if they didn't want to change.

Years ago, he designed low-slung shelters, sort of pup tents with walls and a roof, and had them built and delivered to an area homeless camp. They got the nickname Holy Huts.

He advocated collecting candles for the homeless to provide light and heat, helped found the local food bank Our Daily Bread in 1982 and encouraged other ways to feed children.

A bright spot in his church and community, Donald died Thursday. He was six days shy of 80.

His church, St. John's Episcopal in Pascagoula, was planning to celebrate his birthday Sunday. Instead, friends and family will celebrate his life.

He was doing fine Thursday, his son Dr. Bob Donald III said, and he had gone to Singing River Healthplex. The day before, he was watering his tomatoes. On Thursday, he was sitting at home with his wife, Janet, at the bay window, which they called their nest, and his breathing just changed, his son said. When she checked on him, he was unconscious.

"It was that quick," his son said.

He loved to hand out gold Sacagawea dollars, especially to children. His son said he got so much enjoyment out of it he would giggle. The bank tellers knew, and when they saw him coming they would dig for the gold dollars and and that had Democratic presidents on them.

Donald also leaves behind sons Bill and Steven Donald.

In 2009, their father won the Humanitarian of the Year for the United Way of Jackson and George Counties. Shirley Mullins, who worked with him on the children's feeding program Backpack Buddies, said, "He's involved in everything that's good all over Jackson County. He made me see that things are doable that we can all do our part to help."

Jackson County Board of Supervisors President Melton Harris met Donald more than 40 years ago, when they were in the Jaycees, a civic organization whose motto is "Young men can change the world."

Donald already was well established at the national level of the organization, Harris said, working on what were then innovative projects such as collecting unused medication and prescription glasses for developing countries.

Later, he encouraged Harris to join the Pascagoula Rotary Club, which "at one time was off limits for men of my color," Harris said.

"He came to my house to get me to join. He sponsored me. He insisted I get involved," Harris said. "He encouraged me to run for president of Rotary."

Four years ago, Harris became the Pascagoula club's first black president.

"When I was installed, Dr. Donald was there. He gave me a coin. He said, 'I want you to keep this, in memory of this day.'

"Believe it or not, I always kept it in my pocket. It's a memento I treasure. He was my strongest mentor.

"He believed in the brotherhood of man."

Among Donald's awards are the 16th annual Governor's Initiative for Volunteer Excellence, Lifetime Achievement; Young Men's Business Club, 2005 Lifetime Community Service Award; the Mississippi Medical Association Community Service Award, 1986; Pascagoula Rotary Club's Service Above Self Award, 2000; and a HUD Community Development Partnership Award for developing Adventure Island Playground at I.G. Levy Park in Pascagoula, presented to him by President Ronald Reagan.

In a Sun Herald interview after he retired, Donald, at 68, said, "I still have a passion to do things. I would never have retired if I didn't have something else I wanted to do. Everyone needs to work on something positive.

"The thing I fear most is dying in a nursing home," he said. He had no intention of slowing down, although his own health was an issue at times.

"My dad (also a physician) died at age 46," he said. "Without modern medicine, I wouldn't be here."

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