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Obituary: Richard Donovan, 84

Jun 18, 2015 06:28PM ● By Kieran Gilman

SANBORNTON, NH - Richard A. Donovan Sr., age 84, the founder of Ironstone Farm in Andover, MA, died peacefully on Monday morning, June 15, at D’Youville Senior Care, with his beloved family at his bedside. He was the loving husband for 42 years of Bernadette C. “Katie” (Murphy ) Donovan, who died in September 2010.

He was born in May 1931, in Somerville, one of five children of the late William J. and Viola F. (May) Donovan, and was raised in Somerville. He graduated from Boston University with a Bachelors Degree, and continued his education at Boston University, U-Mass, and Suffolk University. His early career was teaching at Billerica High School, as the Science Department Head, but he followed his passion and began a second career and a lifelong affiliation with horses.

Throughout his life he was active with Thoroughbred horses, brokering, breeding, breaking, raising, training and rehabilitating the injured. His referral list included Cornell University, Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Schools. He provided therapy and rehabilitation for Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs, and several other New England Tracks.

In 1960 he moved to Andover and founded Ironstone Farm. He was the first in New England to build a therapy swimming pool for horses. With the natural curiosity of the Ironstone Farm’s neighborhood children, Richard began teaching horsemanship to the children. He opened the farm to visits and field trips to children with disabilities. This led to the formation of Challenge Unlimited, a therapeutic riding program that provided horses and lessons for children as a community service. The program had grown under Richard’s vision and direction to a program that now serves over four hundred children weekly, year round, with a staff of nineteen, working thirty horses and counts one hundred fifty volunteers. In spite of his accomplishments, in his inexhaustible humility, Richard liked to refer to himself as a “farmer.”

Richard was a member of numerous Bureaus, Associations, and Societies, including NH and Mass Farm Bureaus, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Mass Breeders Association, American Suffolk, American Quarter, American Paint , and Haflinger Horse Associations, Essex County 4-H, Essex Agricultural Association.

He and Bernadette stepped back from the day to day affairs at Ironstone and moved to Echo Ledge Farm in Lyman NH in the late 90’s. After the death of his wife he moved to Sandbornton, NH.

Richard leaves two children and their spouses, Bernadette “Bobbie” Donovan and her husband Steve Taylor, Richard A. “Duffy” Donovan Jr., and his wife Megan (Loughney) Donovan, and their daughter Catherine Linda “Cali” Donovan all of Sanbornton, NH; a dear friend Mary Elizabeth “Dee Dee” O’Brien of Lowell; a sister, Claire Mountain of Winchester; several nieces and nephews, and was predeceased by his brothers William Donovan, and Robert Donovan, and his sister Mary Vocell.

At his request, funeral services were private. Memorials to Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm, 450 Lowell St., Andover, MA 01810 will be greatly appreciated. A Celebration of Life is planned for August 23rd, 2015 at Ironstone Farm. Please see farm website for additional details. Arrangements were through the Tewksbury Funeral Home.

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