BRADENTON BEACH – Morning beachgoers saw Marie Donahue walking the beach nearly every day, finding sea turtle tracks and enjoying the shorebirds, the dolphins and the Gulf of Mexico.
Suzi Fox was one of them. When Fox finished her survey of the beach each day as director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, she would often look up at Marie’s condo on Third Street and Marie would call out, “Coffee and cinnamon buns!”
Fox is heartbroken over the death of her friend from COVID-19 on July 25.
Donahue, 91, of Bradenton Beach, was a longtime friend of Turtle Watch, introduced to sea turtles in the program’s infancy by one of Turtle Watch’s original volunteers, “Turtle Tom” Van Ness, Fox said.
“They were pioneers of Turtle Watch,” she said. “They walked the beach as citizen scientists. She really knew what she was talking about. She caught things others missed.”
For many years, the two women met frequently for lunch.
“I felt so rich with her as my personal friend,” Fox said. “She would hear me out and cheer me up and correct me when needed.”
Donahue was so fascinated by turtles, she traveled to the Galapagos Islands to see them, Fox said. She visited six continents, often with family, and was a lifelong patron of the arts and an avid reader. She volunteered at Tingley Memorial Library in Bradenton Beach and the Anna Maria Historical Society.
“She was well-spoken and kind to everybody,” Fox recalls. “She was such a part of this Island.”
Because of the coronavirus, “We never got a chance to say goodbye,” she said.
“I’m saddened to know there are people who still don’t believe in this virus,” Fox said. “We need to be reminded that we’re losing our own.
“Right now, we have to protect ourselves,” she said. “This season has been a challenge, but I’ve never been more proud of the volunteers. We are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before.”
A Catholic Mass will be celebrated for Donahue. Due to the coronavirus, no memorial gathering is planned.
The great-grandmother is one of 186 people in Manatee County who have died from the coronavirus; 8,733 people in the county have reported having COVID-19 since its appearance locally in March, according to the Florida Department of Health.
On Anna Maria Island, 22 people have reported having the coronavirus in Bradenton Beach since its appearance locally in March, with 12 in Holmes Beach, three in Anna Maria and two in Cortez, according to floridadisaster.org.
Nationwide, 4.6 million cases have been reported, with 154,002 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.