In Memory of John A Donnelly, by Les Sharman
October 1955 - March 2020.
John, known as ‘Johnny’ and then ‘JD’ was a Bedford lad. He was one of the 12 children of Tom and Joan Donnelly. John attended Bedford Modern School at the old site, now the Harpur Centre.
His father Tom had moved to Bedford from Ireland and made his living in the building industry. He eventually rose to the position of Mayor of Bedford in 1976 and 1977, but he tragically died whilst still in office in June 1977. John was of course devastated when his dad passed away.
John was natural sportsman, playing golf as a junior member at both Bedford & County GC and Bedfordshire Golf Club alongside his dad. This was also where I first encountered John, when he caddied for his dad. I was soon to cross his path on the rugby field as well. As well as golf, John was a very good rugby and cricket player. The Donnelly family lived in Wentworth Drive, so naturally Johnny played rugby for ‘The Ath’.
After a brief sojourn working as a maths teacher and living in Birmingham, John came back to Bedford and Bedfordshire Golf Club where he was a member for 40 years and currently Terry and David are too. Three other brothers have been members in past times. Jim, Phil and Robert. Sadly, we have just lost Robert too. I enjoyed his friendship and playing golf with him very much.
John was a 4 or 5 handicap golfer for most of his life. He had a natural gift and rarely practised. John was seen at his best with a long club in his hand, his 5 woods were imperious, long irons tremendous and his driving from the tee was long and straight - just superb. I must have played well over 1,000 games with John and he was the most reliable golfer from the tee that I ever saw!
The nearer John got to the green and hole however, the more uncertain he would become. He could drive it miles down the middle then put a wedge shot in a bunker or through the back. He was a bit of a par three expert though. He would tee the ball very high for an iron shot but it worked for him. Once, in a foursomes round, he and Iain (Tiny) MacFarlane had four two’s on the par threes. Strange to say, he never had a hole-in-one.
John insisted on using the plumb-line method for his putting. I could never figure the theory behind this and did use to ask him why he did it. Generally, his reply tied him in knots as much as me, but he always insisted it worked for him. He was just an average putter really. He could spend ages looking at a line, asking my advice and then leave the putt short.
Johnny and I represented the club all around the county in matches and competitions for about 40 years. I have never been happier than in his company on the golf course. We also entered numerous opens together and had great times.
On reaching age 55, John became a senior golfer and was good enough to represent the Club at that level and he also made the County side. He struggled to be available because he was still working full time but he did his best. I remember one of John’s finest hours being at the Berkshire in July 2013 v Berks, Bucks & Oxon. It was 10 a side and Johnny was playing scratch player David Niven. We all bar one lost out in the country and so focused on Johnny’s match which was very tight. The golf on those last few holes was superb, Johnny losing out to a birdie/par finish.
He was great to play with, always encouraging, proffering advice and applauding good golf. Like all of us, he could get in a stew when things didn’t go right and you could see the steam rising and he would invariably say “get me off this golf course”. One of his great recoveries was when winning the veterans salver a few years ago. He went out in 5 over and back in 3 under for a 72 gross.
I had the pleasure of accompanying him in the last Medal he played on 8th March 2020. There was an arctic gale blowing and with fast greens and back tees, it was very difficult indeed. John went round in 77 gross and came in to the lounge to a well-deserved round of applause.
In the clubhouse and on the course John always had a joke ready. Invariably a funny tale, it was his telling of it that was funny too. John had his own spin on words and ways of saying things.
John had his priorities in life. Firstly he was devoted to and proud of his wife Sally and children Sarah and Sean. He would always make sure he left the Club in timely fashion to do his chores on a Sunday afternoon. Secondly he was the most loyal and hardworking of employees, latterly working for his brother David. Thirdly, he loved the greater Donnelly family. He was often going to family gatherings or visiting poorly relatives hundreds of miles away.
He never ever forgot his dad’s date of passing and always made sure that the Tom Donnelly Salvers had pride of place in the Club calendar.
Another example of his selflessness and loyalty was illustrated by his agreement in the early 2000’s, to become Chairman of Bedford Ath’ Rugby Club, during what was very difficult times for them. He gave up golf for 3 years in order to do this and saw it through.
John seemed to know everybody in Bedford and most knew him. Unfailingly generous, he was helpful; kind; hard working; honest, reliable and he had a great sense of humour. He was of course, a loving husband and father.
For me and many others, he will be a great friend missed.
John's Funeral will be at the Norse Road Crematorium, Bedford on the 16th April