“Hey,” he’d say, “let me tell you about …”
And off he’d go, Rich Donnelly would, he himself wrapped in yarn and covered in cowhide and stitched in red, or that’s how I saw him anyway. Still do. An old catcher. A coach. A spit-on-his-hands, roll-up-his-sleeves, bow-his-legs, tell-a-story, get-to-work coach, and man, and father, and friend.
His son died Sunday night. Michael was 38. He stopped his car on a dark highway in Dallas, according to reports, because someone else was in danger. As he helped to push a stranger’s car to safety, Michael — Mike — was struck by a passing car.
I told Rich I wanted to write about Mike and life and love and courage. So, hey, let him tell you about that.
“All the credit to the two women I married,” he said Tuesday morning. “Mike’s mom, Peggy, instilled in him the values. Roberta likewise showed our two daughters to have compassion and love for others. They saved the lives of two strangers at the Las Vegas shooting. [Peggy and Roberta] were there full time for all our kids while I was away. I am blown away by them. And by all my [eight] kids.”
Now he’d have to bury another.
He had a daughter named Amy. She died 25 years ago, this month, of a brain tumor. She was 18. She could tell you about life and love and courage. She still makes Rich laugh and cry, the way kids do. And when she was gone, the Donnellys held on to that little girl, of whom Rich often said, “She showed me how to live. And she showed me how to die.”
Mike was barely a teenager then.
These years later, on a road bound for somewhere else, Mike stopped. He, along with a woman who’d made the same choice, would give a few minutes on that road, because if not him then who, because, apparently, that’s what Donnellys do.
News reports from Dallas said Mike and Lyndsee Longoria, 26, were helping to move a disabled SUV from traffic. It was 11 p.m. A car approached from behind, saw them too late, reacted too late, and Mike Donnelly was pronounced dead at the hospital. Longoria survived.
And so Rich Donnelly, at 71, and Peggy and Roberta, and their six surviving sons and daughters, and Amy and Mike, find life and love and courage. How to live. How to die. But mostly how to live.
“Everybody in the world has something,” Rich likes to say, which is the way he explained life after Amy, how he laughed again, how he kept the light bright and warm, why he so loves telling stories about that little girl who coached him through the worst of what can happen here. Now, Mike, too, who bothered to slow down, to stop, to help.
“They make me so proud,” Rich told a Dallas reporter. “They make me so humble. It’s unbelievable to think they did all this for someone else.”
He mourns again. They all do. And then, someday soon, Rich Donnelly will smile and he’ll spit in one hand and then the other, and he’ll wave a fungo bat, getting the weight of it just so.
“Hey,” he’ll say, “let me tell you about …”
He’ll smile. He’ll laugh. He might just cry. And he’ll tell you about life. Love. And courage.
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