The Washington Post

James A. Donohoe III, Washington developer who led Donohoe Companies Inc., dies at 68

Mr. Donohoe led one of the oldest and largest real estate and development companies in the Washington area. (Courtesy of the Donohoe Companies)

James A. Donohoe III, the chief executive and board chairman of Donohoe Companies Inc., one of the oldest and largest real estate and development firms in the Washington region, died Nov. 4 at his home in Bethesda. He was 68.

The cause was cancer, said his brother Bob Donohoe.

Founded in 1884 by Mr. Donohoe’s great-grandfather, the family-run Donohoe business grew from a small real estate concern into a massive enterprise encompassing residential and commercial construction, development, building maintenance and hotel management.

Mr. Donohoe joined the operation as a teenager and worked as a bricklayer and carpenter before rising through the management ranks. He succeeded his uncle, the late Richard J. “Dick” Donohoe, as president in 1988.

Beginning in the 1970s, Mr. Donohoe helped expand the firm’s development work to include more than 10 million square feet of commercial, residential, hotel and other properties, his brother said.

Among the business’s high-profile projects in that era was Georgetown Park, the $100 million shopping complex that opened in 1981 in the center of the District’s Georgetown neighborhood.

The Donohoe construction company, with Mr. Donohoe then serving as vice president for sales and development, undertook the venture with the Western Development Corp. At the time, The Washington Post described the project as “probably the most costly shopping center of its size ever built.”

Describing the difficulty of erecting such a structure without damaging the neighborhood’s architecture, The Post noted that “the basement parking garage had to be lower than the bottom of the canal — in 10 feet of solid rock that had to be dynamited away without tinkling the china of Georgetown’s elite.”

Mr. Donohoe also played a leading role in the construction and development of sites including the Chevy Chase Pavilion (which today includes retail and office space as well as a hotel), the Fannie Mae headquarters on Wisconsin Avenue, the Federal Center Plaza in Southwest Washington and the Cloisters neighborhood in Georgetown.

Construction projects during Mr. Donohoe’s presidency included more than 60 hotels and embassies, schools and residential buildings throughout the Washington area, including the Gallery Bethesda apartment complex that is slated to open in January, according to his brother.

Mr. Donohoe also started Donohoe Hospitality Services, a division that manages area hotels, and handled the firm’s real estate and property management work.

James Aloysius Donohoe III was born on Oct. 6, 1945, in the District, where he graduated from St. John’s College High School in 1963 and received a bachelor’s degree from American University in 1969. He served in the D.C. National Guard in the 1970s.

Mr. Donohoe served on his high school’s board of trustees and on Catholic University’s board of regents. His memberships included the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.

Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Mary Jo Grimm Donohoe of Bethesda; two children, James A. Donohoe IV of Washington and Maurian Donohoe Dubinsky of Bethesda; two brothers, D. Patrick Donohoe of Chevy Chase and Bob Donohoe of Bethesda; two sisters, Virginia Donohoe McHugh of Chevy Chase and Rosemary Donohoe Collopy of Washington; and three grandchildren.

Among other philanthropic efforts in recent years, Mr. Donohoe joined several developers in donating material and labor to renovate struggling Catholic schools in Washington.

“I’m Irish and I’m Catholic,” he told The Post. “It sounds trite, but I wanted to help by giving back.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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