In the City of Lowell, the name Nancy L. Donahue has become synonymous with dedication and generosity.
We are honored to call Nancy a former board member, a supporter, and a friend of Lowell Community Health Center.
Her name may grace many notable institutions, but Nancy never imagined she would have the opportunity to transform the City she has come to call her own. It happened bit by bit, quietly, powerfully, and sometimes, completely by accident.
Nancy thanking the crowd at the dedication of the Nancy L. and Richard K. Donahue Dental Center at Lowell CHC in 2019.
One thing that is no accident? Her unwavering commitment to health equity and access.
“I tell my kids and my grandkids, you can’t change the whole world, but you can change your own little world,” she says. “You can do something. We can all do something.”
Like so many of us, Nancy’s early sources of inspiration were close to home.
“My mother volunteered for everything,” she remembers warmly. “She showed me that’s just something you do. It’s a way of life.”
That way of life followed Nancy to Lowell, where she arrived as a young bride many moons ago. Her first volunteer position was at St. John’s Hospital. There, she began to understand and appreciate the diverse groups that fueled the city – including recent immigrants – and the value of quality healthcare.
So she started volunteering at the International Institute, as well.
“I wanted to get involved in the community. I could see that these newcomers were a group that was vastly underserved.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Her volunteerism only blossomed from there.
Nancy has a passion for the arts and education. In talking about the founding of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Nancy says with a laugh, “it was an accident really – we just jumped in!”
What she lacked in experience, she made up for with grit, fueled by a vision of Lowell as a welcoming, diverse cultural epicenter. “Theatre and the arts are a terrific tool to bring people together – there is a role for everyone. It really is a great equalizer.”
Those same ideas of equity and inclusion are a big part of what attracted Nancy to Lowell CHC.
“The Health Center is a place where it doesn’t matter who you are – or where you came from.”
For many years, the Health Center had not been on her radar beyond its affiliation with Lowell General Hospital. A meeting with then-Health Center CEO Dorcas Grigg-Saito opened her eyes. “I realized it was a hidden health organization,” she remembers. “It was fulfilling a really important role, especially with those in our community who needed help most.”
Nancy agreed to join the Board – a team of other doers who began to transform Lowell CHC into what it is today. Together, this group lay the groundwork for the eventual move into our Jackson Street home, which now serves half the population of Lowell.
“It just grew and grew – Dorcas was amazing in her wonderful quiet way and how she had the vision to see it through.”
When we expanded to offer dental care several years ago, we couldn’t have been more thrilled to place the names of Nancy and her late husband, Dick, above the entrance.
In dedicating the Nancy L. and Richard K. Donahue Dental Center, Lowell CHC employees recited a special Ode to Nancy:
You’ve brought many a smile to those who travail,
And yours continues to be an impressive tale
Of determination, generosity and above all, heart
You’ve shown us that community is truly an art.
Thank you, Nancy, for continuing to be a champion of culture, equity, and inclusion for all of the people of Lowell!
“All you have to do is think about the many thousands of people who are served by the Health Center. If they were not served, what would be the impact on Lowell? It would be disaster.”