Minium: ODU Basketball Assistant Coaches Lost a Father and Brother Just Before Christmas

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NORFOLK, Va. – Even if Christmas is more of a secular thing for you than a celebration of the birth of Christ, the holidays are generally a time to spend with family, to exchange gifts and afterwards, eat a huge meal.

So regardless of your faith, when a close family member passes away around the holidays, it makes a painful blow even more difficult to accept.

The Old Dominion men’s basketball family suffered a pair of devastating blows in mid-December as two of the four assistant coaches lost close relatives just four days apart.

Jamal Robinson and Kieran Donohue grew up just miles away from each other in New York City and have known each other for decades. They both played Catholic league basketball and attended the University of Virginia.

They have been close with ODU head coach Jeff Jones for three decades.

What are the odds they would lose a brother and a father within days of each other? 

On Saturday, Dec. 10, an hour before ODU’s home game with Gardner-Webb, Kieran learned that his older brother, Tim, had died.

He sat alone in his office before the Monarchs dispatched Gardner-Webb, 44-43. 

“I knew I could get through the game,” he said. “And I knew what my brother would have wanted me to do.

“It was an ugly game, but I’m so glad we won.”

Afterwards, the loss hit him like a ton of bricks. He spoke to the players, briefly to a few staff members and left without saying good bye to Jones and without telling anyone the loss he’d just suffered.

Tim Donohue

Tim Donohue was a healthy guy who had been sick for a few days with flu-like symptoms. That morning, he called his wife, Susan, and said he didn’t feel well and asked her to come to take him to an urgent care center.

Before she got home, he collapsed and died. His sons, Brendan and Kevin, ages 17 and 14, respectively, performed CPR on their dad until an ambulance arrived. Despite their heroic efforts, their father was already gone.

“They were brave young men,” Kieran said.

Four days later, at Flushing Hospital in Queens, New York, Jamal Robinson and family members gathered around his father, James Robinson, as doctors turned off the respirator that was keeping him alive.

James Robinson was a former basketball star at Denison College in Ohio, and was a giant of a man who was robustly healthy well into retirement.

But four years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia.

Some dementia patients are blessedly clueless that they have a cruel disease that robs you of your memories and your ability to think and eventually takes your life.

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Jamal and James Robinson

 

“But he knew what was happening to him,” Jamal said. “That made it so hard.”

Jamal is also a giant of a man. He played 13 years professionally, including one with the NBA’s Miami Heat.

Tears filled his eyes as I talked to him about his father at Chartway Arena last week.

“He was just amazing,” Jamal said. “He was so strong.

“When I was younger, I felt like I didn’t like him because he wasn’t letting me do all of the things I wanted to do.”

When he got older, Jamal said “I grabbed him and just told him ‘thank you.’ because now I understood why he was being that way. He didn’t want me in the streets doing bad things with my friends.

“He was such a role model. Even with this disease, he was such a role model. He held my mom’s hand. The way he held onto my mother’s hand,” he said, stopping for a minute, when speaking of Maria Robinson.

“He was all about my mom.”

When I asked him how he’s doing, Jamal replied: “Not good.” He’s been sick. The shock and grief of losing a family member lowers your resistance. He said he’s happy to be with family in New York.

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Kieran has processed his brother’s death differently. He’s been a workaholic around the office, in practice and in games. On Thursday he said good bye to his wife, Erika, and daughters, Molly and Nora, as they departed to Connecticut to be with family.

Then he spent several hours doing yard work and housework and got in his car to drive to Belmont, North Carolina, to be with his parents, Kevin and Joan Donohue, and his brother’s family.

We spoke for nearly two hours as he drove, and an odd thing happened. Kieran handles travel arrangements for the basketball team and always knows where he’s going. But he got lost and drove to Newport News before having to circle back south.

“I never get lost,” he said. “Ever.”

Mental lapses like that are typical of grief, especially the first time you lose a close family member.

“Everybody grieves in their own way,” Jones said. “Kieran was going to stay busy and take care of everybody. That’s who he is.

“Jamal is grieving in his own way. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. It’s different with everybody. All we can do is be there for them and support them in any way we can.”

They’re not the only Monarchs who’ve been recently touched by death. Guard Tre Brown, the transfer from Drexel whose eligibility for this season is caught up in the NCAA appeal process, recently lost his stepfather in a car accident in Washington state.

Tre was in Norfolk, more than 3,000 miles away from family in the Pacific Northwest, when he got the call about his stepfather. As he was walking back from a study hall to his dormitory room, he called Jones.

“He was completely torn up,” Jones said.

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Tre Brown

“I live right down the street, so I got in my car and found him on 43rd Street, meandering around, sobbing on the corner of one of the side streets.”

 

Jones paused for a second before adding: “We are family, and we have to take care of each other.”

After Kieran left Chartway Arena immediately after the Gardner-Webb game, Jones learned his long-time friend was distraught, but not why. So, he drove to Kieran’s house, pulled into the driveway and called him.

“I knew something was going on,” Jones said. “But I didn’t realize Tim had died.”

Jones, who lost his father a year and a half ago, is dealing with additional potential losses. A four-year starter at point guard for UVA, Jones said one of his former teammates had a stroke over the summer. Last week, his teammate and close friend went into hospice care.

Then during exam week, he flew to see another friend whose wife is in a coma.

“They don’t know what happened, but she’s been in a coma the last 60 days,” Jones said. “Everywhere you look, we’re taking hits.”

Kieran and Jamal knew of each other in New York and met at UVA. They are part of a select group of former New York Catholic school players who have been close with Jones since he coached at UVA.

Former UVA and ODU assistant coach Dennis Wolff, also a former Catholic school player from New York, recruited Jamal to Charlottesville and introduced Kieran to Jones and helped him land a job on the Virginia staff.

“Dennis has been awesome to both of us since this happened,” Kieran said.

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Kieran Donohue

 

So have the players, who hugged both Kieran and Jamal after ODU’s stirring, 78-77 victory over George Mason Wednesday afternoon, a win that allowed the Monarchs to end their non-conference schedule with a four-game winning streak.

I watched Kieran and Jamal throughout much of the game and at times, the pain was apparent with both of them. But they both love coaching. And winning.

“It was good to be back on the court,” Kieran said. “It was a release for both of us, I think, and such a fun thing to be a part of such a great victory.

Later, he added: “One thing my brother’s friends made abundantly clear to me is that they knew how proud he was of me.”

Their father was a college basketball referee and they grew up watching their dad ref games all over the city.

Jamal saw his dad go toe to toe with the best on the New York City playgrounds.

“He is literally the guy who put a ball in my hand,” Jamal said. “I have him to thank for my entire career.”

Jones had told Jamal shortly after his father died that he could remain with his family and miss the George Mason game.

He came back to Norfolk anyway.

“I just needed to get away for a little while,” he said. “And I felt so much positive energy from the guys here.

“Coach Jones has been great. He knows my family. He knew my father. He talked with me about his family’s experience with his father, who was also on a respirator.”

His favorite memory of his father was likely his first NBA game. “It was something he had always dreamed about,” Jamal said. “I didn’t play much, but when he embraced me after the game, it meant so much.

“He didn’t care about the game. It was just such a great moment for him to see his son in an NBA uniform.”

Jamal and Kieran haven’t said a lot to each other. Mostly, they’ve exchanged knowing nods. They don’t need to speak. They know the pain they share.

“He made it clear to me, and me to him, that we’re here for each other,” Kieran said.

“This sucks. it really sucks,” Kieran said. “This has been a hard two weeks.

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Kieran Donohue during ODU’s victory over George Mason

“My brother was such a good guy. He was a people person and well-liked. People felt comfortable talking to him because he was genuine, and he was caring.

“He would have been so good in this situation. He wouldn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself, so I’m not going to do that. He would do everything he can to help the family. I’m making a choice to do what he would have done.”

Those who know Kieran know he’s a man of many words, but he’s also eloquent. His eulogy to his brother was 1,101 words and a heartfelt, beautiful tribute. It’s attached below.  

He choked up when I asked about the eulogy. “That was my way of saying goodbye, of telling my story of Tim that I think a lot of people could appreciate or relate to, not the least of which is my parents.”

A few lines from the eulogy were especially touching.

Timmy D was my older brother.

He was my idol,

He was my hero.

I wanted to be just like him.

He believed in me.

He had faith in me.

He had such confidence in me.

He was so proud of me that it inspired me.

He taught me how to be my own man.

He encouraged me to chase my dream.

I wouldn’t be where I am without him.

I am so thankful that he was my brother.

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KIERAN DONAHUE’S FULL EULOGY OF HIS BROTHER

On behalf of Susan, Brendan and Kevin, and on behalf of the Donohue and Tomberlin families, I want to thank everyone for their tremendous outpouring of support, and attendance here today to help us mourn the passing of and celebrate the life of Tim.  

 

We would also like to take this opportunity to extend a special thank you to Katy and staff at McLean Funeral Home, and Father Paul and Chrissy from here at Queen of the Apostles, for all of your support, patience and guidance during this week.  We are forever grateful. 

 

 

 

Timothy Kevin Donohue was born on October 15th, 1971, in Bronxville, New York, fulfilling a young couple’s dream, becoming the first child of Joan and Kevin Donohue.  They lived in an apartment on University Avenue in the Bronx, and for a time they were joined by cousin Maura from California.  At age 3 Joan and Kevin fulfilled another dream and the Donohues moved in to a big house in the suburbs, 58 Bronxville Road, a house that Joan and Kevin would make a glorious home in for the next 48 years.  At age 4 Tim became a big brother when I was born. 

 

Tim attended our local parish school, Saint Joseph’s in Bronxville for kindergarten through 8th grade where he was an altar boy, a cub scout and played basketball.  In those years he also started playing for the famed Riverside Church Hawks club basketball team where he was fortunate to be teammates with some truly outstanding players, including a few who went on to play in the NBA. 

 

From the day after school ended to the day before school started back up, magical summers were spent down the shore at the beach house on D Street and Island Avenue in Seaside Park with the Lavelle side of the family.  Never before have 2 dudes spent so much time in the ocean and still not be able to surf, but somehow, and very regrettably for both of us, neither Tim nor I were ever good at that.  Nevertheless, those summers were truly amazing.    

 

He attended Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, NY, where he played basketball and was on what I believe was Stepinac’s first ever lacrosse team.  There was all the typical high school stuff – high school sports, young love, some really bad fashion choices, some even worse haircuts, and what was very typical if you went to high school in Westchester in the 80’s and 90’s, more than a few nights spent on North Avenue.  

 

Tim then moved south to Durham and lived for a year with his aunt and uncle, Big Hugh and Mary Donohue, and cousin Catherine.  He worked at the 4 Corners while the big fella – his uncle – worked his magic as only he could, to help fulfill a dream, and the other big fella – the big man upstairs – worked his magic, as only he does, to answer a prayer, and one of Tim’s dreams came true and he enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It’s safe to say that Tim got quite an education there at Carolina.  He loved Chapel Hill so much that he graciously extended his undergraduate stay a few years and almost pulled off the rare feat of staying in college forever. 

After graduating, I repeat, after graduating, he returned to New York for a few years to start his corporate career, before the light blue pull of the Tar Heel state was too much and he returned to Carolina, eventually settling here in Lowell.  He called Lowell home for over 20 years, worked for Kimbrell’s for over 17 years, and it is here in Lowell where he met his wife, Susan.   

 

Another dream was fulfilled, and together, Tim and Susan were raising the greatest joys of their lives,  

their sons,  

17 year-old Brendan and 14 year-old Kevin.   

 

 

On December 10, 2022, at the far too young age of 51, Timothy Kevin Donohue quite unexpectedly passed away.  

May he rest in peace. 

 

 

Timmy D was my older brother.   

He was my idol.   

He was my hero.   

I wanted to be just like him.  

He was fun.   

He was popular.   

I’m not sure if cool is the right word, but he was something,  

he had something,  

that thing, that other people enjoyed being around. 

 

I followed him around wherever I could, 

or more accurately, wherever he let me.   

I was his shadow but he never let me stay in his shadow. 

He didn’t hide anything from me. 

He showed me both paths, … he let me take a good look… 

He knew what was best for me when sometimes I didn’t, or worse, when sometimes I was too arrogant to admit it.   

And sometimes he nudged gently, sometimes he pushed harder, but he made sure I walked my path. 

 

 

He believed in me. 

He had faith in me. 

He had such confidence in me. 

He was so proud of me that it inspired me. 

He taught me how to be my own man. 

He encouraged me to chase my dream.   

I wouldn’t be where I am, in so many aspects of my life, without him.  

 

I am so thankful that he was my brother.   

 

I am so proud of him 

 

 

To borrow a line from Timmy D’s very good friend John Fichthorn, who said at Tim and Susan’s wedding, 

 

While some people collect items and others collect wealth, Timmy D collected friends. 

 

Timmy D had a big heart and a fun-loving spirit 

He had a generous disposition and he had kindness in spades 

He had a slightly crooked smile and he wore it often 

He had a really big heart 

His loyalty knew no end. 

 

He was a friend.  A really, really good friend.   

He was a good dude. 

He was a damn fine man. 

He was a loving son. 

He was an amazing brother.  

I think he was an excellent husband. 

I know he was a tremendous father. 

 

 

Tim was a man who easily found the good in all people and things, and nothing made him happier or prouder than his boys, Brendan and Kevin.   

 

His love for you two had no end 

It has no end 

It just now has new ways of being shared with you. 

 

Like his father before him, Tim did what he could, all that he could for his sons.   

 

He was a man born to be a father.   

 

He was a son raised to be a great husband.   

 

He was a brother to only one, yet a brother to many.   

 

He will be irreplaceable and forever loved.

 

 

 





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