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A major loss

The alphabet soup series here at The Legal Genealogist generally focuses on oddball terms that appear in legal documents and are often misunderstood by genealogists.

But today’s entry, for the letter L, has to be a little different.

It could be for learning, because that was one thing he shared with every single person with whom he came into contact.

It could be for laughter, because you couldn’t be in his presence for more than a few minutes without something being said or done (or both) that would bring a smile and then a laugh.

But today, today it has to be for loss.

Because today that learning and that laughter are gone.

The email came in late yesterday afternoon from his daughter in Delaware, letting us all know that “BG (Ret) Donn Devine, CG, CGI, and initials too numerous to mention, left the surly bonds of suffering and infirmity … on 5 May 2019 at 1635.”

With those words, the world became a lesser place. And the genealogical community in general — and this genealogist individually — are the poorer for it.

L is for loss

Born in New Jersey in 1929, Donn Devine was the quintessential Renaissance man. He held a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from the University of Delaware and a law degree from Widener University. He worked first as a chemist, then — before and after receiving his law degree — as director of renewal planning and then as director of planning for the City of Wilmington, Delaware. He was then in private practice but continue to serve as a legal consultant for the city.

He also served for 34 years in the Delaware National Guard, entering as a private and rising to the rank of Brigadier General before his retirement in 1984.

His genealogical activities spanned more than 40 years, including service as archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, as an officer and journal editor for the Delaware Genealogical Society, as a director of the National Genealogical Society, and as trustee and general counsel of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. He lectured on topics ranging from the law to DNA testing, wrote numerous scholarly articles and published a work on his mother’s DeRevere family, earning recognition as a Fellow of the National Genealogical Society (elected in 2013) and an honorary lifetime membership in the Association of Professional Genealogists (2014). In 2018, BCG announced a new extraordinary service award, named in Donn’s honor.

He married Elizabeth Cecilia Baldwin in 1951 and was the father of three children. He was predeceased by son Edward and is survived by daughter Mary Beth and son Martin.

A full life, a rich life, over a span of 90 years.

And somehow, in the midst of all that he did and was and had taken on, Donn took the time to become, first, my mentor. Then, my colleague. And in the end, to my joy and my delight, my friend.

I never had a question he didn’t have time for, never a problem where his guidance and advice didn’t help steer me on the right track, never a conference or a meeting we both attended that didn’t end up in the bar with a lot of learning and a lot of laughter.

A kind soul, described by a mutual friend as an old school gentleman and a gentle man, Donn will be missed by all. He’s someone who, another friend wrote, had an impact on the life of every genealogist.

Yes, today, the letter L has to be for loss.

And for love as well.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “And the letter L today is for…,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 6 May 2019).

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