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Decades of doodling

For more than 50 years, Bob Donovan drew cartoons, including the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith strips.

By JANET LEISER
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 8, 2002


BOB DONOVAN
1921-2002

* * *

DAVIS ISLANDS -- Bob Donovan heaped praise on Blondie cartoonist, Denis Lebrun, when his friend visited him at St. Joseph's Hospital in January.

"He told the nurse, "Do you know who this is?' " Lebrun said.

"I asked her if she knew who he was."

Lebrun wasn't surprised the nurse didn't know Mr. Donovan was a longtime cartoonist on the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comic strip.

"He wasn't one to blow his own horn," Lebrun said at a Tuesday memorial service in Donovan's honor.

"Unfortunately he didn't always get as much recognition as he deserved."

Mr. Donovan was 80 when he died Sunday of cancer.

Tuesday, his drawings and photographs -- many more than 50 years old -- were enough to fill a room. His brothers, sisters, wife, sons and friends shared chuckles as they told stories of a man who relished making others laugh.

He would joke about his nose, they remembered. It was so big, he'd tell kids, he could play music on it. He pretended it was a violin.

Days before his death, Mr. Donovan's wife, Philomena, rubbed his nose as he lay, eyes closed, in a nursing home bed.

"As sick as he was, he went, "Honk, honk,' " his brother Jimmy said.

Mr. Donovan's love for drawing began as a child in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.

His father was a cartoonist for a local newspaper and many of his four brothers and five sisters liked to doodle.

With 10 children, there wasn't usually enough money to go around, but laughter was plentiful.

"He said he always had new socks to wear to school. His dad used to draw them on his feet," said daughter-in-law Patti Donovan.

As a Marine in World War II, Mr. Donovan received a Purple Heart and earned a commendation for a relief map that "aided in the capture of Guam."

If he was skilled with his fingers, he was quick with his hands: He was a 1941 welterweight Golden Glove boxing champion.

It was during the war that Mr. Donovan met Fred Laswell, who took over the Snuffy strip after the death of its creator, Billy DeBeck, in 1942. After the war's end, Mr. Donovan and Laswell worked as cartoonists at Leatherneck, a Marine Corps magazine.

In 1960, Laswell asked Mr. Donovan to work with him on the strip. He retired in 1986.

Lebrun was a teenager when he first met Laswell and Mr. Donovan, who became his mentors.

"They took me out for my first drink when I turned 18," Lebrun said.

Mr. Donovan is survived by Philomena, his wife of 53 years; two sons, Bobby Jr. and Joseph; two brothers, Thomas of Hamburg, N.Y., and Jimmy of Buffalo; and three sisters, Edna Mae O'Neill of West Seneca, N.Y., Gladys Manning of Blasdell, N.Y., and Helen Donovan of Lackawanna, N.Y.

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