Eddie Donoghue saw life as a perpetual cradle of opportunity and adventure. He embraced new challenges and never allowed himself to be categorized. At 17 he was operating his own business – a small shop called the Busy Bee Grocery. He would go on to be an activist, author, playwright, dancer, actor, salesman, politician and journalist. He also earned a PhD. And he says it was all possible because of the discipline he learned during his formative years in Montserrat.
Donoghue, a consummate Renaissance man, passed away Monday morning at his home in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, after a prolonged illness. He was 82 years old.
Donoghue was born July 22, 1937 and grew up in the heart of George Street in Plymouth. His father, Reginald “Reggie” Martin Sr., controlled the fishing industry in Montserrat, supervised the dock workers, and ran a grocery store and night club, among other businesses. Mr. Martin also enjoyed the trappings of his wealth and popularity, fathering at least 17 children.
Donoghue, nicknamed “Tom Pond” as a boy, says his early upbringing was one of privilege. “The servants would come to my school with warm milk at 10 o’clock during break,” he said. “It was an extremely privileged upbringing while my father was alive.”
Donoghue attended the Montserrat Secondary School along with future luminaries Sir Howard Fergus and Attorney Kenneth Allen QC.
“He was my closest friend at school,” Allen says of Donoghue. “I was a school prefect, and the headmaster, Mr. Archer, commissioned me to make sure Eddie went to school. So I would pick him up in the morning.”
Fortunes took a turn when Donoghue’s father died of renal failure at age 52 on May 17, 1950. Medical bills depleted the family funds, and creditors also came to collect after Reginald Martin’s death. The once-affluent family suddenly became destitute, and most of Martin’s children migrated after his death — mostly to Antigua, St. Kitts, the Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom.
In 1956, Donoghue received an endowment from a family friend that allowed him to travel to England to study accounting. When he obtained a copy of his birth certificate, Donoghue — who went through school as Thomas Edwin Martin — discovered that he was registered under Donoghue, his mother’s surname. So he adjusted his name.
Upon arrival in Britain he performed menial jobs such as cleaning train engines and working in a button factory. He also became a social activist, decrying racism during rousing speeches at Hyde Park. It was there that he met a Swedish young lady who was working in London as an au pair. They struck up a friendship and Donoghue eventually visited Sweden. It was a revelation.
“The people there were nice and kind,” Donoghue said during a 2018 interview. “They even gave me winter clothes. It showed me that I was wrong to lump all white people together. It became a philosophy in my life. I condemn white racism and I condemn black racism.”
Donoghue eventually relocated from England to Sweden. He learned the language quickly, got a job at a local dance company, and later became a dancer himself despite no formal training. But his main source of income was as a traveling salesman at outdoor markets. He sold mostly giftware and gained a big following for his charismatic style and sales gimmicks. Many articles were written about his technique.
Donoghue was also a family man. He had four children, two of which earned fame. His daughter Kiella was a popular model in Sweden. She sadly died in a car accident in 1994 at age 26. Another daughter, Zetma, was once lead singer for Swedish group Basic Element. They had a No. 1 song in 1993 called The Promise Man.
In 1981, Donoghue and his dance group – “Eddie’s Goodies” – toured the Caribbean and performed in Montserrat at the Agouti Club in Wapping.
In December of 1982, Donoghue earned his doctorate in Sociology from the University of Gothenburg. His dissertation, which was delivered in front of a packed auditorium, drew rousing applause. Shortly after, he relocated to St. Thomas to be near his ailing mother. Ann Donoghue-Pond passed away a few months later.
In St. Thomas, Donoghue worked as a researcher in the Virgin Islands Legislature, was a guest writer for several local publications, and also delved into politics. He had an unsuccessful run for office in the 2002 elections on the gubernatorial ticket with Alicia “Chucky” Hansen. But he was perhaps best known for his Saturday morning radio show on WSTA (1340).
Donoghue published several books, including Black Breeding Machines, Black Women/White Men and Negro Slavery: Slave Society and Slave Life in the Danish West Indies. He also wrote several plays, including the well-received Half Married, which debuted to standing-only audiences at the Pistarckle Theater in St. Thomas during the 2008-09 season.
“Eddie was for me a loyal and faithful friend who has never forgotten nor given up his Montserrat roots,” said Fergus, who knew Donoghue for more than 60 years. “What was particularly admirable were his efforts to use his position in the U.S. Virgin Islands and his talents to promote the development of Montserrat.”
Donoghue was known for being extremely punctual, and it rankled him when others didn’t extend the same courtesy. “People steal your life away when they steal your time,” he once said. “I like to be on time all the time.”
Donoghue is survived by his wife Eva and son Philippe in St. Thomas, daughters Veronica Martel in London and Zetma Zackrisson in Sweden, six grandchildren, and four siblings – Monica Martin in Montreal, Rosanna “Lynn” Fagon in St. Thomas, Lloyd “Bobby” Martin in Jamaica and Veda Martin-Carr in Connecticut.
A viewing will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, February 22, 2020, at Turnbull’s Funeral Home in Charlotte Amalie, followed by a repast at Percy’s Bus Stop Bar & Restaurant.