Donna C. Schuck (Long, Fox), died peacefully and surrounded by love early in the morning on Sunday, January 26, 2020, at the McClure-Miller Respite House. She was surprised to find herself nearly 88 and a half at the time.
Donna was born August 28, 1931, and raised in a large loving Catholic family in Chicago during the Great Depression. Her memories of childhood were always vivid, filled with texture and color and adventures with her sisters, her younger brother Chuck (fondly known as Buppy), her cousin Bunny and all the other Connelly kids. She loved her father’s storytelling and her mother’s singing.
Donna graduated from Mundelein College at a time when many women did not attend or complete college. Inspired by the nuns who taught her and by Annie Sullivan, the educator who gave Helen Keller a voice, she became a teacher. Although her formal teaching career was brief, throughout her life she sought out opportunities to teach, whether catechism to kids with special needs or English to the immigrant housekeeping staff at the San Francisco Residence Club where she spent half a dozen joyful years.
Her favorite job was serving as house mother to the boys of McGucken House at St. Vincent’s School in San Rafael, which was a bit of a surprise since she never liked cooking and wasn’t very good at it. One of her many workarounds was suggesting that it would be good for the boys to know how to cook their own eggs. She regaled the boys with her signature cautionary tales and would pretend to be Rosalynn Carter or Nancy Reagan when she called them on their birthdays. The boys were devastated when she could not identify the 1979 hit, “Reunited” during her audition for the “Name that Tune” TV show.
Donna loved babies and would sit right on the floor and meet children where they were. There were none too young for genuine conversation, from her point of view. She was quick to pull out the paints or crayons on a rainy day and liked nothing better than to color with her own children and all of the neighborhood gang.
She married Captain Michael T. Long and became an Air Force bride, ultimately settling in California and raising four children there, much of the time as a single parent. She navigated the challenges of those years with all of the resourcefulness and good humor she could muster, encouraging her children, exploring her faith, and welcoming the occasional lost soul into her life.
Donna was a collector who loved a good bargain. She was a regular at all of the neighborhood bookstores and thrift stores in Marin County and San Francisco. She delighted in finding the perfect T-shirt and paying only a quarter for it. Or a battered first edition of a favorite book, or a rare record album. She saw value and meaning and stories in everything.
She took umbrage at injustice and was angry about the 1% long before it was fashionable. She cared about the vulnerable.
She was a self-declared Luddite and “mechanical dyslexic.” She once asked us to “look up joy” on the Internet.
But Donna remembered your life better than you did. She paid attention to the details that most people missed.
Donna appreciated hot coffee, dry scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, and burnt toast. She loved second son-in-law Bill’s soup (very hot) and lemondrops. She loved music, art, opera, and reading most of all. “You can’t be bored if you know how to read” was one of her memorable admonishments. She leaves behind a treasure trove of her own artwork and a Pandora’s Box of poetry written on index cards and napkins and in French school books.
With a free spirit, Donna aspired to travel the world. She was over the moon when her daughter Donna invited her to live in France and care for her grandchildren. She had a special connection with her first son-in-law, Yale. For two glorious years, she wandered the streets, cafes, museums, and bookstores of Paris, picnicked with toddler Zachary, and once she stood on a chair in the kitchen in the middle of the night, to steal Donna’s fudge.
Back in San Francisco, she created an unconventional life for herself, first at the San Francisco Residence Club, where she wrote plays over breakfast with a parade of other life travelers, and then at The Granada, where she could choose each day whether to walk right or left for the day’s adventure. Barely able to operate a stapler, she navigated the entire San Francisco bus system, rode the cable cars when she was too tired to walk up the hills, and made smoky sachets from the bougainvillea flowers in the Residence Club garden. She valued her independence and had great intentions of birthday cards to write and perfect gifts to put in the mail. She was proud of her fundraising for the San Francisco AIDs Walk, which she did in honor of a dear friend.
Donna felt and expressed deep gratitude for the care she received from the staff of the Sterling House in Richmond during her time in Vermont, known as her “Field and Stream” years. She was beloved by the staff and residents there.
She cherished her special friendship with Nancy Hartmuller, who played Scrabble with Donna every week until her sight failed. An avid reader and artist, Donna deeply grieved the loss of her sight, but she loved listening to Nancy read her the Anne of Green Gables books, and together they read almost through the whole series.
While living in Vermont, Donna enjoyed many special visits with her dear sister Jeanne and brother Chuck and his family, as well as her own children and grandchildren, coming to see her from near and far away. She eagerly awaited news and photos of each new great-grandchild. She looked forward to eating Fritos and dip while watching TV with Katherine on Sunday nights, to the days that Ronan would visit after school and just sit in the recliner, talking or not talking, to Ella’s dance recitals and concerts, and especially to Christmas visits with Mary.
Donna appreciated a good Scrabble word, well positioned, much more than her own point score. She was the master of the cautionary tale and reminded us that with a fresh box of pencils, or a good leather purse, you feel like you can conquer the world. She regretted that she had not travelled more, that she thought she was too busy to spend an hour each week making art, and that she worried too much. She knew that sometimes we need to just close our eyes and rest, or stop to have a snack, so that we don’t get crabby with each other.
Donna’s family is so grateful for the extra time we had with her, thanks to the vision of Nanc Bourne and Dr. Dan Goodyear who thought it might just work out to bring her to Vermont, and for the support of Vermont’s Choices for Care program, which made it possible for her to live such a rich life. We are also grateful to the staff of Richmond Family Medicine; Dr. Audra Pinto and her staff; the Retina Center of Vermont; Dr. Kate Lane, Long Trail Physical Therapy; UVM Medical Center (especially Dr. Tara Scribner); and the McClure Miller Respite House. And there simply are no words to thank the staff of Sterling House at Richmond.
Donna Fox Long Shuck is survived by her four beloved children: Donna Catherine nee Long Kushner, Michael Xavier Long, Mary Elizabeth Long, and Katherine Ann Long; by six grandchildren: Amy, Zachary, Sarah, Danica, Ella, and Ronan; and five great grandchildren: Coralee, Gideon, Ava, Jake, Maddie; and by her sister Jeanne Marie Fox and brother Charles E. Fox. She was preceded in death by her parents Marie E. nee Doyle Fox and Charles E. Fox, sisters Marietta and Jamie Colette Fox, and sister-in-law Carol Ann Fox.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Donations in Donna’s memory may be made to Maryknoll Missionaries, Agewell, or SF AIDS Walk.
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