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Obituary of ‘Big John’ Donovan, 63 

Obituary of Big Donovan, 63

‘Big John’ Michael Donovan stood 7’1″

John Michael Donovan
October 25, 1960 – March 20, 2024
Templeton, California

– John Michael Donovan, a towering figure both in stature and spirit, passed away at the age of 63 in San Luis Obispo, CA on March 20, 2024 as the result of a fall. Born in October of 1960 in Ridgewood, NJ, John’s journey was one of resilience, diverse achievements, and profound relationships.

Beginning with the loss of his father at age six, John navigated life’s challenges with remarkable strength. Educated at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bergen Catholic, and Ridgewood High School, he found his calling on the basketball court, though he humbly joked about his early days “riding the pine.”

John’s athletic talent propelled him from Lees McRae Jr. College and Bergen Community College to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY on a full scholarship, and then to international courts in Steyr, Austria; Killarney, Ireland; and Tokyo, Japan. His time playing basketball overseas changed him from a “Jersey boy” into a worldly, though humble man. John was proud of his entire family but particularly enjoyed sharing his little sister’s basketball celebrity.

In 1989, John embraced the California lifestyle, employed by various organizations, from Chevron in San Francisco, to the Santa Maria Valley Contractors Association, to the Rideshare Program in San Luis Obispo. John spent almost 20 years as a State Farm Agent/Owner in Atascadero. His commitment to his profession was symbolized by the distinctive “Actual Size” image adorning the side of his Suburban, which over the years became an iconic presence in the area. John had a unique ability to balance his work life with a deep sense of joy and play.

John’s personal life was filled with compassion for others and great love, especially after marrying Sharon Ashley (nee Morris) in 2000. A devoted stepfather and father, he cherished a busy and happy household with his five daughters, navigating life’s ups and downs with a never-complaining, forward-looking spirit, even amidst the health challenges of two open-heart surgeries and enduring an ultra-rare neurological condition, Superficial Siderosis.

Among John’s myriad interests, his passion for the history of Abraham Lincoln stood out distinctly. He delved into the life of the 16th President with unyielding curiosity, amassing an impressive depth of knowledge. John’s enthusiasm for Lincoln’s legacy was infectious, especially evident when he recited the Gettysburg Address to captivated school students. This fascination traced back to his childhood when he participated in a 4th of July parade in his hometown. As an adult, John embraced this tradition with even greater zeal, donning an authentic top hat and black wool suit to become a beloved and anticipated figure in the Templeton 4th of July parade for 17 years. His portrayal not only honored Lincoln’s memory but also became a cherished ritual in his community.

John was predeceased by his brother, Joseph Donovan, his little sister, Anne Donovan, and his brother-in-law, Cliff Morris.

John’s legacy is carried on by his beloved wife, Sharon; his daughters, Dr. Sarah Ashley MD, Katherine Ashley JD, Rachel Ashley, Emily Donovan, and Meredith Donovan. He leaves behind his siblings, Kathleen Donovan (Larry Orlick), Michele DiPiano (Tom), Patrice O’Donnell (George), Mary Grab (John), and Kevin Donovan (Jenny); his mother-in-law, Jean Morris, sister-in-law, Karen Belick, along with a large circle of family and friends who revered him for his big heart and warm, engaging presence.

John stood 7’1″, a figure impossible to overlook, yet it was his immense kindness, resilience, and the depth of his relationships that truly defined him. As we reluctantly release John Michael Donovan, we celebrate a life richly lived, a legacy of love and perseverance, and the many lives he touched. He will be profoundly missed, but his gentle heart lives on in his many friends and family. Please remember to honor John by committing to an act of kindness every day.

A celebration of life will be held in the future. Details will be posted on Big John Donovan’s CaringBridge page. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the National Marfan Foundation, the The Cuesta College Assistance for Student Emergencies (CASE) Fund, or to Meals that Connect in San Luis Obispo.


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About the author: News Staff

News staff of the A-Town Daily News wrote and edited this article from local contributors and press releases. Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Connect with him on , Twitter, LinkedIn, or follow his blog. He can be reached at

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