As Dr. Timothy Donovan led his daughter and granddaughter on a lengthy hike near Tucson, Arizona, he stumbled and fell. The Madison doctor brushed himself off and insisted the group keep going so his granddaughter, 10 or 11 at the time, could experience success in the outdoors.
The next day, Donovan went to urgent care, where an X-ray revealed a fracture. “He had broken his wrist, but he didn’t say one word to anybody,” said his daughter, Kristin Nelson, who was with her daughter on the hike. “He wanted to give her a sense of accomplishment.”
Donovan was never one to complain, Nelson said, whether it was growing up as the eldest son of 10 children in southeastern Wisconsin, ushering Dean Clinic through mergers as president or fighting multiple myeloma in his later years, when he became UW-Madison’s oldest stem-cell transplant recipient at the age of 72.
“He would listen to the rest of us complain about one thing or another,” Nelson said. “But he’d just focus on the positive.”
Donovan died from COVID-19 and his blood cancer on April 10 at age 82. He became ill from the coronavirus in late March.
“He didn’t even get that sick with COVID-19. But he was so sick with his cancer, that was all it took,” said Dr. Conrad Andringa, a longtime friend and Dean Clinic colleague.
Donovan, from a Catholic family, entered the seminary but started a hunger strike to bring attention to his desire to attend college. “It was to let his parents know he wanted to be a doctor, not a priest,” Andringa said.
After attending Marquette University, Donovan received his medical degree from UW School of Medicine and Public Health. He and Andringa, medical school classmates, ended up at Dean Clinic, Andringa as a pediatrician and Donovan an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Donovan became president of Dean Clinic, helping it merge with another doctor group and launch an HMO, Dean Health Plan.
“He was a friend you could count on,” said Andringa, who played the card game Sheepshead with Donovan and joined him in attending Badgers football, basketball and hockey games.
Donovan was a dedicated tennis player, spending many hours at the John Powless Tennis Center in Madison. He also played bridge, achieving the title of life master.
“He worked extremely hard at whatever he did, whether it be tennis or golf or bridge,” said Nelson, a veterinarian in Janesville.
As with many COVID-19 deaths, a traditional memorial service was not held.
“It’s a big Irish family and there was no big funeral, no big wake,” Nelson said. “There wasn’t a lot of closure.”