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Julia Phillippi Donahue: CPA, mother, companion, world traveler

CPA, mother, companion, world traveler, benefactor

Julia P. (“Julie”) Donahue died peacefully at her home on January 18 after being hospitalized since early December.

During her last few days she was able to spend time with her three children and their families, her nieces and nephews, and her constant companion and partner, Don Rea.

Julie was born in 1933 in Hammond, Indiana. It is an understatement to say that she made the very most of her 85 years.

Her family first moved to Arizona, and then in 1936, to Los Angeles, where she grew up. In 1946 her father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Hard times followed, with her mother Elizabeth suddenly charged with taking care of Julie, older brother Tom, and her younger sister, Paula, with little or no available resources.

She graduated from Los Angeles High School, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Pomona College in 1954.

At Pomona she met her future husband, Roger Soulanille. After graduation, she taught elementary school for a short time and then went to Paris. There, in 1955, she married Roger, who had about a year left on his army enlistment. She loved Paris and returned there at every opportunity.

Mr. Soulanille’s career involved frequent relocations, so the couple ended up living in the Bay Area, Fresno, Sacramento, Chicago, Atlanta and finally, back to California in Manhattan Beach.

She became expert at pulling up roots and relocating her family. Along the way, they raised three children: Tom was born in 1959, Elaine in 1961, and Nicole in 1963.

When she was 29 years old, with two small children and pregnant with a third, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. It was caught early, and with aggressive radiation therapy she was cured. In the last years of her life she suffered from a variety of serious health problems, all related to the lifesaving radiation treatments from 45 years before. She gamely persevered through all of this and maintained a happy, active and rewarding life right up to her final days in the hospital.

During her family-raising years, in addition to homemaking, she was a perpetual student, taking classes in education at Berkeley, math at various other California schools, library science at Georgia State and computer science at Georgia Tech.

She finally settled on accounting and passed the CPA exam on the first try in 1976 at the age of 43. She did her initial accounting work for the firm Ernst and Ernst, then worked at an oil and gas partnership before landing at TRW. There, she moved up the ranks to a position of significant responsibility as head of an accounting department.

By then, she was single again and living alone in Manhattan Beach. In 1984 a mutual friend introduced her to Don Rea, an engineer living in Tustin. Although divided by 40 miles of freeway, they became inseparable and, in 1990, bought a house together in Claremont. There they built a whole new life for themselves and enjoyed spending the next 28 years together. She  “retired” from TRW and for the next few years worked as controller for a few small local companies.

She led a very active life in retirement. In addition to skiing, tennis and playing the recorder in early music groups, she was an avid world traveler. A partial list of her destinations on six continents includes Africa (three times), Greece (twice), Turkey, Egypt, Mexico (the Yucatan, twice), Baja California (twice), Alaska (twice), the Amazon River, Indonesia, the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, train trips to the western national parks and the Antebellum South, rivers of the Pacific Northwest, the Galapagos Islands, China (twice), Israel, Jordan, Italy, France (three times), Central America, Antarctica, Hawaii, the British Isles, Patagonia, Spain (three times, including two walking trips) and many other destinations.

Along the way, she traversed the Panama Canal twice, saw a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, observed four total solar eclipses, and attended the French Open tennis tournament and the Indianapolis 500 race.

She greatly enjoyed listening to classical music and attended hundreds of live performances at Los Angeles venues. She was also an avid reader and enjoyed knitting and sewing.

She was extremely generous with her time and money in support of St. Ambrose church, her alma mater Pomona College, the LA Philharmonic, and other worthy causes.

She was instrumental in the formation and nurturing of the successful Youth Wellness Center (YWC) in Claremont, which provided important afterschool tutoring and social activities for needy students. The YWC was later merged with the Claremont After School Program, known as CLASP.

At St. Ambrose, she served on the vestry as treasurer, senior warden, and helped the church establish its bookkeeping and accounting systems.

She is survived by her companion, Don; three children; three grandchildren; two nieces and two nephews.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, February 23 at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, 830 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont. A reception will follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Upland’s Trinity Hospice at trinityhospiceinc.com, St. Ambrose Episcopal Church at stambroseclaremont.org/ giving, or the Southern Poverty Law Center at donate.splcaction.org.