Mary Donnan, wife of former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, dies

Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan (L) was married to his wife Mary for 60 years. Mrs. Donnan died on June 8, 2021, after a long battle with cancer. (Photo from Donnan Family)
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Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan (L) was married to his wife Mary for 60 years. Mrs. Donnan died on June 8, 2021, after a long battle with cancer. (Photo from Donnan Family)

ATHENS — Stand by your spouse. That’s what comes to mind upon learning this week of the death of Mary Donnan.

Mary Wright Donnan was the wife of Hall of Fame college football coach Jim Donnan. She died Tuesday at the age of 77 after a long battle with lung cancer.

Mrs. Donnan, as so many knew her, also was a mother, grandmother, sister and friend. Her obituary tells us that, like her husband, she was an “avid tennis player” and “loved to sing and dance, and enjoyed painting.” But, more than that, she was the glue that kept the Donnan clan together, even as they found themselves spread across the country from the years of the hopscotching that comes for families of football coaches.

Between children and grandchildren, they literally span the United States, from Los Angeles to Norman, Okla., to Columbia, S.C. That’s what happens when your job takes you to eight states in 31 years, as Jim Donnan’s did.

Mary Donnan stood as the constant among those ever-changing backdrops.

“She was a special lady who loved her family and was truly dedicated to providing everyone in it with her devotion and support,” Jim Donnan said Thursday. “Mary was a mom to many of my players over the years, and to a lot of my kids’ and my grandkids’ friends.”

The Donnans’ love story began in Burlington, N.C., where they were high school sweethearts. It ended in Athens after 60 years of marriage. Athens was, of course, Jim Donnan’s last stop in the vagabond vocation that is coaching college football. It was Mary who chose to stay put even after Donnan was fired in 2000 after five years as the Georgia Bulldogs’ football coach.

While Mary was caretaker of the family all those years, it was Jim Donnan who was the nurturer the past several years as the ravages of cancer and COVID-19 took their toll on his wife’s health. He did not enlist help. Instead he remained there by her side daily, fetching whatever she needed and making sure she was comfortable.

In addition to her husband, Mary Donnan is survived by her children, Tammy Donnan of Atlanta; Paige (Greg) Johnson of Norman, Okla.; and Todd (Kristi) Donnan of Norman, Okla.; grandchildren, Grant Johnson of Los Angeles, Calif., Payton Johnson of Oklahoma City, Okla., T Donnan of Norman, Okla., and Julia Donnan of Norman, Okla.; and sister, Judy (Tommy) Truitt of Columbia, S.C.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Athens First United Methodist Church in Athens. A reception will follow in Hancock Hall at the church. A graveside memorial service will be held in Burlington, N.C., at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to The Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 49303, Athens, GA 30604 or online at www.cfnega.org.