Pembroke – Eganville Leader columnist Aloysius (Al) Donohue and his wife, Carmel will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this November and they both admit it took a great deal of work, love and even forgiveness, primarily on her part during the earlier years of their union, to make it this far.
Their history together is likely not that unique, but it bears sharing because it includes a powerful message about what happens in a relationship when a person recognizes how the “good” in a person can outweigh the “bad”.
Mr. Donohue, the second youngest of eight children of James and Mary (McGrath) Donohue, spent the first 16 years of his life growing up in Hyndford. His wife, Carmel (Poole), was born and raised in Pembroke, the second youngest of six children of Stanley and Mary (McNamara) Poole.
After graduating from high school and at the urging of his mother and memvers of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Douglas, Mr. Donohue went to the seminary with the Scarborough Missions. He spent more than there before realizing a vocation was not for him.
In the summer of 1951, he and friend Kevin O’Reilly were working in Ingersoll and he was drinking pretty heavily at the time.
“I knew I had trouble with alcohol and I was afraid I would not be the kind of priest I wanted to be,” he said of his decision to leave the seminary.
After Mrs. Donohue graduated from Cathedral High/Convent of Mary Immaculate, she found work in the purchasing office at Atomic Energy Canada Limited in Chalk River, starting in September 1953. Although Mr. Donohue had worked at AECL with a foundation company for about 18 months before, the couple never met until in February 1954 when he was hired as a quotation clerk in the same office.
“Word got around in the office that this gentleman was coming to work there and he was just out of the seminary,” she recalled. “And I thought, ‘O dear God’, because there were a few men that used some kind of rough language every once and awhile.
“I thought he’s just out of the seminary and he’s going to have to listen to this,” she added. “It wasn’t too long until I was saying, ‘Oh dear God, what happened in the seminary’, as he could teach them a few words, I’ll tell you.”
Mr. Donohue recalled his boss’s secretary came back to his desk one day and suggested he take out the woman who would become his future wife, but he hesitated.
“Carmel and I worked together five months and we both thought the other was probably deeply in love with someone else. And then someone broke the news to us that both those fires had been extinguished.”
She was very attractive and he admired her. The fact he was just out of the seminary, she thought he would be a “real prize”.
At the time, she was not aware of her future husband’s problem with alcoholism.
Their first date was July 14, 1954, when he asked her to a barn dance at Ben Johnston’s farm near Douglas. At the time, he was boarding in Pembroke and Mrs. Donohue was still living at home and it was a double date, with his brother, Tom, who had a car.
“She was a real good square dancer and I was impressed, because I’d sooner square dance than round dance,” Mr. Donohue recalled. “I think our first date was very encouraging.”
The following week, they had their second date at the old O’Brien Theatre in Pembroke.
“We seemed to be on the same page,” he remarked when asked how that date went.
Mrs. Donohue said they really didn’t see each other a whole lot while on the job but they would see each other on the bus that ran from Pembroke to AECL each day.
He admitted being unsure of his feelings and had told Mrs. Donohue about it after one date at the O’Brien Theatre.
“I think I knew I was falling in love with her and I said to her after a show, ‘I said, Carmel, I don’t know whether we should be going steady’, and she just kind of looked at me,” he noted.
Shortly after, they were scheduled to attend the AECL staff Christmas party on December 22, 1954, but he was still feeling some uncertainty about their future.
“I was uneasy that morning and in the afternoon I decided I had to go to the Cathedral and ask God for direction,” he recalled. “I was at the back of the church and somebody lit a candle at the front of the church and came down the aisle.
“And it was her, so that was my answer,” he added.
They had dated for five months and Mr. Donohue felt pretty sure she was the one, while Mrs. Donohue said she still had some doubts because others were telling her about his drinking problems.
“But, of course, I thought I can change that once we’re married and everything will be just peaches and roses and what have you. But it didn’t turn out that way.”
He popped the question one day they were walking together downtown and he steered her into Goldstream Jewellers.
“And she looked at me sort of incredulously and I think there was something sort of mysterious. But I knew immediately I had made the right decision.”
They purchased the ring that day, with Mr. Donohue noting the subject of marriage had not yet been discussed between the two or with either sets of parents.
Her parents knew of his drinking problem as well, but they too felt once he settled down, that would cease. The wedding was scheduled several months later and despite persistent warnings about his problem, Mrs. Donohue stayed by his side.
“I could always see the better side of Al,” she remarked. “And I thought once we were married, he’d change.”
They were married on November 12, 1955 in the Cathedral in Pembroke in what she called a big ceremony.
“He would have invited all of Pembroke,” she remarked.
The dinner was held at the Pembroke Hotel and the reception was held at Hillcrest Hall on Highway 17 near Cobden where the sales barn now stands..
“I think we had close to 100 for the dinner and our mothers kept telling us we had to cut it down,” she recalled. “But he had so many friends.”
At the time, Mr. Donohue was working a second job with a construction firm and the $400 he had earned there was used to take his new bride on a honeymoon to Niagara Falls. They borrowed his brother, Tom’s car for the trip and spent about 10 days there.
When they got home, they moved into an apartment at 161 Agnes Street and set up their home. Because they were married, AECL did not allow couples to work in the same department, so Mr. Donohue transferred to reactor operations, where he spent the next 12 years.
Mrs. Donohue said her husband was certainly not the romantic type of individual over their almost 65 years.
“I can’t remember ever getting a bouquet of flowers,” she said. “He might buy chocolates, but he’d eat more of them than I would.
“On Valentine’s Day, I might have gotten some chocolates, which he would eat,” she added.
Sadly, after the wedding, his drinking persisted and Mrs. Donohue said she gave him numerous ultimatums to either stop or else, but she hung in.
“My parents always told me to look at it this way, his good points outweighed his bad,” she said. “They were behind us 100 per cent, all the way through his drinking days.”
“I don’t think I could ever have found a better father and mother-in-law. They let us try and resolve our differences, they never interfered,” Mr. Donohue said.
She said in those days, marriage was considered a lifetime commitment and she tried to honour that.
“And with his family and my family behind us and helping along the way, I think that’s what really kept us together,” she said.
She said his problem often led to financial problems for them.
“At that time, I was addicted to cigarettes and booze so bad that buying them was more important than groceries,” he admitted. “That’s what sort of haunted me.”
Saw The Light in 1969
Mr. Donohue said he loved to play hockey and had played with numerous good hockey players in the seminary, including the late Father Les Costello, and other members of the famed Flying Fathers. On January 1, 1969, he had promised to referee a Midget house league game that his son, Tim, was playing in. The night before he had been at the company’s New Year’s Eve party and “had drank every kind of booze he could get his hands on” and was feeling very unwell the next day. He was to drive his son and some of his friends to the game, and despite his head hammering, he kept his commitment. During the game, he discovered he could not only barely stand up on the ice, but he started to sweat so badly, he sweat the remaining booze out of his system.
“When I came home that night, I called two friends who came and took me to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and that was it,” he said proudly. “I celebrated 50 years sober on January 1 last year.”
When asked why it took so long, Mrs. Donohue quickly interjected, “stubbornness”.
He said when he looks back on the situation now, he is incredibly grateful to his wife for having the courage and love to stay with him.
“I couldn’t have made it on my own. I’d be in the same boat as some of the people I tried to help.”
“He had a lot of clergy that he knew from when he was in the seminary and we had clergy dropping in quite regularly,” she said. “Our faith really helped.”
He admits while he may have never stopped to actually say he was sorry to his wife for the hardships he created while drinking, there were times when she certainly knew he was thinking that.
Mrs. Donohue said it was obvious he regretted his actions, but added “sorry” was not in his vocabulary.
She said once the drinking stopped, it became a “normal” marriage, adding he was a good father and husband.
Blessed With Six Children
Their union was blessed with six children, the first of which arrived nine months and five days after the wedding. Their son, Terry, lives in Lapasse; Colleen is in California; Patricia and Timothy are in Massachusetts, Kathleen is in Westmeath, and Maureen is in Pembroke. They have 10 grandchildren.
Mrs. Donohue said they celebrated their 25th anniversary with a joint celebration with his brother, Urban, and his wife, Rosemarie, who were married one month earlier than they were.
“We had a celebration out at the Alice and Fraser recreation centre,” she recalled.
For their 50th anniversary in 2005, they were joined by family and friends at a celebration at 17 West in Cobden. When asked what they might do for their 65th in November, Mr. Donohue said , “get up and have breakfast”.
When asked the secret to their longevity was, Mrs. Donohue replied faith and patience.
“Sometimes there were things I’d like to say, but in order to keep the peace, you just have to zip it up,” she said.
Asked what advice they’d give young couples, Mr. Donohue replied, “Try to keep faith in each other, you have to do that. You can’t isolate yourself from your partner.
“I always thought Al’s good points outweighed the bad,” she said. “You had to look at the good side of things.
“He was generous to a fault with everyone, I’ll tell you that much,” she added.
The Donohues recently returned from a vacation with their son, Tim and his family to visit their daughter, Colleen and her family vacationing in California.