Don Downs
  • 87 years old
  • Date of birth: Jul 21, 1923
  • Date of passing: Mar 17, 2011
Let the memory of Don be with us forever

Don Downs, Renaissance man, dies at 87.
Donald Joseph Downs, an Irish tenor, died at his residence in West Point, Ga. on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2011, at the age of 87. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ruth Wingate Downs, four children, 11 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.

During his 35 years with the West Point Manufacturing Company and later versions of the company, Mr. Downs first edited the WestPointer, a company magazine chronicling news about the employees of The West Point Co. and their families. Later he developed the field of public relations, coordinating media relations for the company and special projects such as the opening of the Lanier Carter Mills. He was awarded the prestigious Order of the Phoenix Award from the University of Georgia (the school’s highest individual award for career achievements) for his pioneering work in the field of public relations.

He was born July 21, 1923, in LaSalle, Illinois. He was the only child of his mother, the late Doris Donnelly Downs Parkin, his father, the late Joseph Rogers Downs, II, his stepmother, the late Louise Taylor Downs, and his stepfather, the late William Hildreth Parkin.

Don's early life revolved around the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois which he fondly called "Todd for the Odd." Don was a boarding student and acted in high school theatrical productions directed by Orson Welles who also attended Todd. Don sang in the Todd Alumni Chorus at the Chicago premier of Citizen Kane. He later worked as a cowboy near the famous Blue Holes of Wyoming, playing the piano and singing at the Rustic Pine Tavern in Dubois, Wyoming. He enjoyed holidays with his Donnelly grandparents on Sawyer Avenue in Chicago, and summers with his Downs grandparents on their family farm near Dresden, Ohio.

He earned a Bachelors Degree in Journalism from the University of Georgia in 1948, and at the time of his death, Don was the oldest surviving male cheerleader of the University of Georgia, cheering Georgia's national championship team in the Sugar Bowl in 1946. He helped restart the Sigma Chi Fraternity chapter at the University of Georgia after WW II. He also boxed as a sparring partner for the UGA boxing team.

On July 15, 1950, in Pelham, Ga., he married Ruth Spence Wingate. He edited newspapers in LaGrange and Hogansville before moving to West Point in 1953. Don and Ruth had four children in four and a half years. "It was a planned family," Don said. "It was just a poor plan."

Don sang in the choir of the West Point Presbyterian Church where he also taught adult Sunday School. He coached children in swimming and basketball; he learned to pilot small planes and enjoyed flying; he taught water skiing and he navigated the Chattahoochee from Columbus to the Gulf of Mexico on several occasions with family and friends.

Don served on the West Point School Board; he chaired the West Point Housing Authority Board. He served as longtime editor of the Yarnspinner, the newsletter for the West Point Rotary Club and he was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow. He served as a member of the Lanier Hospital Auxiliary Board.

During the civil rights struggles of the 1960's, Don and Ruth Downs helped organize a Human Relations Forum allowing blacks and whites to meet and discuss common goals. The Downs received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award in West Point on Emancipation Proclamation Day in 2003 and were honored at West Point's Black History Celebration in 2010, for their civil rights work.

With his unusual brand of humor and lightheartedness, he made friends everywhere; he took great pictures; he grew roses; he wore interesting hats; he gardened and he cultivated friendships with his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who were his biggest fans. "Make my obituary interesting," Don said, asking only that it boast that he learned to dance from Orson Welles' wife, "not Rita Hayworth but Orson's first wife."

Mr. Downs and his family appreciate the efforts of many healthcare workers during the final four years of dialysis.

Survivors also include his four children, Dr. Joseph R. Downs, III and his wife Debra, Dr. Margaret Downs Schaufler and her husband Dr. Eugene Schaufler, Judge Doris Louise Downs and her husband Stephen Andrews and Mr. James Wingate Downs. Eleven grandchildren and five great grandchildren survive, including Mr. William Wingate Downs and wife Jennifer and children Dexter Barrett and Beatrice Lane, Ms. Emily Downs Davis and husband Michael and daughters Alyse Catherine and Corinne Donnelly, Dr. Laura Ellen Downs Beaulieu and husband David, Mr. Benjamin Adam Schaufler, Mr. Christopher Graham Schaufler, Ms. Margaret Ann Schaufler, Ms. Elizabeth Curry Andrews, Ms. Jessica Foster Andrews, Mr. Patrick Spence Downs and wife Whitney and daughter Kennedy James, Ms. Caitlin Louise Downs and Ms. Eleanor Opal Downs.

A memorial service is planned for 4 p.m. March 20, 2011, at the West Point Presbyterian Church preceded by a family visitation at the church fellowship hall at 3 p.m.

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in memory of Mr. Downs. or (800) 533-CURE (2873)

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