Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


AOSS Mourns Esther Marie McPherson Donahue

Posted: May 2, 2013

AOSS Mourns Esther Marie McPherson Donahue

Esther Donahue, age 87, died February 4, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Esther was the widow of former AOSS Chair, Thomas M. Donahue. She was born Esther Marie McPherson, daughter of Helen (Beals) and Mannon McPherson, on March 21, 1925 in Morrisville, New York. Her father was a poultry scientist at Morrisville State College. She was elected Phi Beta Kappa at Cornell University (where both of her parents were alumni), and graduated in 1945. 

Esther had a lifelong love of mathematics. After the war she worked performing computations as part of research into breaking the sound barrier. She moved to Baltimore, Maryland where she lived with her sister Doris, and worked as a mathematician for economist Clarence Long. In Baltimore she met Thomas M. Donahue, then a post-doctoral student in physics at Johns Hopkins University, and they married on January 1, 1950. They moved to Pittsburgh in 1951, where their three sons were born, and then in 1974 to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they remained until Tom’s death in 2004. Esther returned to Pittsburgh in 2005.

While in Ann Arbor, Esther earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan in 1976 and soon became involved with a pioneering organization called Soundings, founded by her close friend Glenora “Gerry” Brown. Soundings helped homemakers displaced through widowhood or divorce to reenter the workforce and regain control of their lives. Esther served Soundings for many years as assistant director and comptroller. She was also treasurer of the Ann Arbor chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Esther was a committed feminist. She was also an excellent cook and early admirer of Julia Child, a Scottish country dancer, and a student of modern art and architecture. She was a much beloved sister, wife, mother, and grandmother. She is survived by her sister Doris and brother James (her brother Ken having died before her); her sons Brian, Kevin, and Neil; and her grandchildren Nora, Madeleine, Liam, Kielan, Innes, and Margaret.

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