Joan Donahue, 83

Joan Donahue

Joan Donahue

Joan Brigid Giffen Donahue, 83, of Bridgton, died on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, of complications from a stroke. Always up for a celebration, it is fitting that Joan died on Fat Tuesday.

Joan Brigid Giffen was born on Jan. 5, 1930, in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest of eight children of John Giffen and Mary McIlwaine Giffen. Joan’s father, a leader in the Belfast division of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, was very active in the independence rebellion against Great Britain that began with the 1916 Easter Rising. The British Black and Tans placed a price on the head of John Giffen, but he escaped as a stowaway on a ship sailing for Portland, Maine, in 1922. Joan’s mother, Mary, along with her four eldest children, immigrated to the United States in July 1922 on the SS Columbia, sailing from Derry, Ireland, and eventually settling in Detroit. Four more children, including Joan, were born in Detroit.

After graduating from St. Vincent de Paul High School, Joan worked for Detroit Edison. While in high school, Joan was a star basketball player, winning citywide awards for her basketball prowess despite her 5 ' 4 "  stature. Joan could not afford college, but she more than made up for it — a brilliant woman who read anything not nailed down and with incredible speed, she could debate anyone on almost any subject (and she did!).

Joan Giffen married James (Jim) Peter Donahue on May 30, 1955 in Detroit. For their honeymoon, Joan and Jim drove around New England, and they fell in love with Maine, where they would retire 40 years later. Joan and Jim had seven children over eleven years. Joan devoted her efforts to raising independent and generous children who would be respectful of others. While living in northern Virginia prior to retirement, Joan and Jim started vacationing in Maine, renting a camp on Moose Pond in Denmark each summer. They fell in love with the Lake Region, and in 1994, Joan and Jim retired to a home on Highland Lake in Bridgton. Joan loved Bridgton in general and her “little spot of heaven” on Highland Lake, specifically. She resided in Bridgton for nineteen years — the longest she lived anywhere in her life.

Joan loved to laugh and converse, and she had an open door policy: neighbors, friends, relatives and strangers were welcome any time for a cup of tea or, more likely, a good stiff drink. Joan was happiest when her many children, their spouses, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews would gather at her home throughout the seasons.

An enthusiastic community member wherever she lived, while residing in Bridgton Joan was involved with, and held leadership positions in St. Joseph Church (both the Women’s Guild and the Eucharistic Ministry), the Lakeside Garden Club, and the Bridgton Public Library. Joan taught pretty much everyone she knew how to make a proper cup of tea! Joan sought thrills throughout her life and well into her advanced years. A particular favorite was roller coasters. She last rode an extreme roller coaster at the age of 77.

Her husband, James P. Donahue, predeceased Joan in 1998, following 43 years of a spirited and loving marriage. Joan also was predeceased by her parents and six of her seven siblings. She is survived by her brother, Kevin Giffen (Commander, USN Retired) of Palo Alto, California, and numerous nieces and nephews. Joan also is survived by her children and their spouses: James Donahue of Howell, Michigan, Deirdre Donahue of Arlington, Virginia, John Donahue of Trumbull, Connecticut, Brendan Donahue of Bristol, Rhode Island, Brian Donahue of Northfield, Illinois, Mary Brigid Curtis of Casco, and Sheila Donahue of Bridgton; and sixteen grandchildren.

Irish beyond the core and a devout Catholic, Joan was waked at her home on Wednesday Feb. 13. A funeral mass was celebrated on Feb. 14, 2013, at St. Joseph Church in Bridgton. A memorial service, followed by a celebration, will be held this summer at Joan’s lakeside home for all friends and family, near and far. In lieu of flowers, gifts in honor of Joan’s memory may be made to the Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, or the Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg.

The family would like to thank the staff at Stephens Memorial Hospital, Norway, for its amazing and genuinely loving care during Joan’s stay there.

Arrangements were under the direction of Chandler Funeral Homes & Cremation Service, 8 Elm Street, Bridgton. Online condolences may be shared with her family at

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