By Shirley Hancock
My greatest career honor isn’t covering a particular story, interviewing a notable person or receiving an award. That honor goes to sitting next to my friend and colleague, my “brother,” Mike Donahue, for 20 years. Years before, I was working at a TV station in Eugene and one day, while grabbing something out of the vending machine, I looked up to see Mike, as always, delivering the news calmly, clearly and without bias. Basically perfectly. I remember thinking, “He makes it look so easy. How incredible it would be to anchor next to the Walter Cronkite of the Northwest.”
Less than two years later I was. We were part of a team, which back then, practiced world class journalism –– thanks in large part to a management team that listened to Mike. He led us all by example: Be kind but persistent. Be fearless. Triple check your sources. Tell a story, don’t just report. Talk like a human, not a robot. Scoop the competition. Don’t ever start your lead sentence with ‘the’. “It’s lazy,” Mike would say. And check your motives for getting in the business. Do you want to inform or just want to be on TV?
We covered everything together — the Mt. Hood climbing disaster, Mount St. Helens eruptions, earthquakes and ice storms, elections, the Rajneeshee attempted takeover of the state, famous murder trials, the first mail-in ballot election and politicians and celebrities of all levels on the integrity scale. We loved covering the Portland Rose Festival together, touring the floats and learning every flower.
Sitting next to Mike was a college class in quickly assimilating facts, remembering them, articulating them clearly, talking off the top of your head with useful information and historical perspective. Of course, sitting next to Mike also meant hearing every detail of the most recent Yankee game.
Mike was never not working when he was in the newsroom. Rick Metsger can attest to this. I used to wish Mike would stop just long enough to eat his sandwich after the newscast, instead of snatching bites as he wrote so many stories for our next newscast. He didn’t just rewrite. He advanced the stories with updates and new quotes. Each newscast for our viewers was truly new.
Mike may have been a quiet leader but his integrity and loyalty never wavered. When a former general manager told Mike to stop giving his faith testimony in churches, Mike refused. He pushed management, often unsuccessfully, for maintaining a high standard of journalism quality. Through the highs and lows, he remained true to his impeccable standards and to his friends.
As an extended family member, Mike and his incredible wife, Susan, were godparents to my oldest son, Michael (MJ). Mike took MJ to deliver food baskets, they collected baseball cards together, went to sports events and Mike prayed for MJ and our family every day. MJ was able to fly out and visit his godfather not long before Mike’s passing. MJ looked, through tears, in the rearview mirror as Mike struggled to walk far enough out onto the driveway to see his godson drive away, one last time.
During our recent and last conversation together, we literally stopped to “smell the roses.” He directed me, pushing his wheelchair, through the garden where he knew every flower. We talked about our years of friendship. He called me “sister” and I called him “brother.” We lamented and laughed at our many adventures together, which can’t begin to compare to the adventure he was looking forward to — and is now having, in heaven.