Adele Donovan didn’t have time to waste. She helped thousands of men and women recover from alcoholism, and stood alongside anyone making an honest effort to overcome the disease.

“But she was no-nonsense,” said longtime family friend Gary Lanouette. “She told everyone, ‘If you want to help yourself, I’m here for you. I’ll give you all the help in the world. But don’t waste my time.’ ”

Donovan, described by friends as an icon of Portland’s recovery community, died Saturday at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough. She was 91, and spent the last 46 of those years sober, said her son, Rex “Arthur” Browne of New Sharon.

“The last 46 years of her life, she did real well. I’m very proud of her,” he said.

She was born April 27, 1925, in Rumford, a daughter of George and Helene (Michaud) Chase.

Donovan dedicated the last half of her life to helping alcoholics and addicts. In December 1970, newly sober, she persuaded the Serenity House in Portland to open its third floor to women. A year later, she and her husband, Jack, opened their Portland home to women struggling with substance issues. They took in more than 50 women over the next decade, teaching basic living skills, including how to live as sober women.


Donovan co-founded Crossroads for Women, which provides addiction services in southern Maine, and served on its board of directors. She was active in Alcoholics Anonymous, and opened a Christian bookstore. She lobbied legislators in Augusta for funding to open another sober house in Portland, which happened in 1986.

As his mother’s health failed in recent weeks, Browne said he had the chance to meet many of her friends, and has been touched by the stories he’s heard and the things he’s learned about his mother’s life and the impact she had on the lives of others.

“She helped a lot of people. I don’t know how many, but a lot,” he said. “In the last month, I’ve met quite a few of them. They think the world of Mum. I could see that every time one would come in for a visit.”

They sat and prayed with her, and talked about their experiences, Browne said. Many became quite emotional.

In 1990, the National Council on Alcoholism presented its Marty Mann Award to Donovan for “providing the compassion, the understanding, and the dedication necessary to move Maine women away from alcohol dependency and into meaningful lives.”

Just as her husband helped Donovan with her work, she helped him with his, Lanouette said. Jack Donovan worked as a self-employed paving contractor in Portland for nearly 30 years. She was a “roller man.” She drove the truck that smoothed the asphalt on driveways. In the winter months, she operated a snowplow.


“She could outwork any man on that crew. She carried her weight. She was a strong woman,” Lanouette said.

Donovan also loved ceramics. For several years, she taught ceramics twice a week at her home, and once a week at Northfield Green, a senior living facility.

Her love of ceramics surprised some people, said Donna Lanouette, Gary’s wife. She sold Donovan her first kiln.

“She had an artsy side that you sometimes wouldn’t expect,” Donna Lanouette said. “She paved driveways and plowed snow, but was quite a lady, actually.”


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