Woodbridge BOE Employee Dies from Complications in a Bizarre Fall

A longtime BOE head clerk, Jean Donato, 73, died Tuesday after injuries sustained in a fall last week during the 'Moves Like Woodbridge' exercise event.

By all accounts, Jean Donato was a lovely woman, inside and out. Fiercely independent, she would do almost anything for almost anyone, except for one thing: she wasn't going to be talking about how old she was.

At 73 - a number few people who saw her could believe - Jean was the poster child for vibrant, healthy, and glowing "women of a certain age."

Her age was her little secret, her son, Robert Donato, said.

Donato remembers now with fondness and not a few tears his mother's sweet little vanity about her age. 

That's because the last time anyone asked Jean how old she was, it was an EMT outside the building where she was employed.

Last Thursday, Jean Donato tripped and fell in a bizarre accident that ultimately cost her her life. 

Her friends and colleagues surrounded her, trying to comfort her in her injuries. The EMT, Robert was told, tested Jean's competency by asking, "How old are you?"

"She said, ' I'm not going to tell you in front of all these people!' " Robert said with a soft chuckle. "Even as hurt as she was, she still had a thing about telling anyone her age."

The accident was freakish. 

The Board of Education and schools throughout Woodbridge were participating in a three-minute exercise event sponsored by the township. was set to begin at 10 am.

Jean, chief clerk in the district's purchasing department, joined her colleagues as they went outside to engage in some dancing and mild exercise. That is when "she tripped or fell, and somehow became airborne," Robert said.

She catapulted down the stairs, breaking both her wrists, and smashing her head on the sidewalk. 

"She came down so hard, no one could stop it," her son said.

His mother "was still conscious when they took her to the hospital. Her friends said she kept saying, don't bother, don't call an ambulance."

Jean was alert on the way to the hospital, but she began to lose consciousness in the emergency room. She had suffered traumatic brain injury, Robert said.

An operation to relieve the pressure on her brain was successful, but not long after, she suffered a massive stroke before she passed away.

As tragic and senseless as her death was, Robert was shocked at the outpouring of love and affection from her BOE colleagues, and from people in the township who knew her for years.

"Everyone I talked to loved my mother. I loved her, but I didn't know how much other people loved her," he said.

Jean Walz was born in Perth Amboy and graduated from Perth Amboy High School in 1957. Two years later, she married Robert Donato, and the young couple moved back to the Avenel section of Woodbridge, where he was from. 

Robert's father passed away in 1974, leaving Jean to raise Robert and his sister by herself. In 1988, finding the Avenel house too much to take care of, Jean moved to a smaller home North Brunswick, where she stayed until her death.

"At the age of 50, my mother took a job with the Board of Education," Robert said. After working at the BOE for 23 years, Jean showed little sign of slowing down. "She loved that job. It was her life," he said.

"She was independent, and loved that the job made her independent. She was proud that my sister and I didn't have to worry about her. 

"She could take care of herself."

That included Jean's meticulous grooming and a standing weekly visit to her hairdresser, Dimensions in Avenel.

At his mother's immaculate home, Robert saw from a calendar that his mother had made an appointment to get her hair done, so he called to tell her hair stylist about his mother's death.

"She cried and cried. She was so upset," he said, and that was just one expression of grief the people who knew Jean were feeling.

There are two things Robert wonders about: how this could have happened to his adored mother.

He also wonders if she knew he was at the hospital after she lost consciousness.

"They said she was awake for about an hour in the emergency room," Robert said. 

It took him two hours to drive there from his Millville home.

Board of Education officials did not return phone calls for comment on the accident.

Visitation and funeral services will be held on Saturday in Metuchen. For details, please see the obituary at this link.

Can't shut me up March 29, 2012 at 01:44 PM
This is horribly sad. My condolances to the family, friends and the community.
Lydianne Busnardo March 30, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Having personally never met Jean, I was aware of this real Life Warrior through her family. Our thoughts at this time should be with her family, friends and co-workers who have sustained a sudden shock and great loss. While we know death is certain, this true life tragedy remains hard to accept.
utsie March 30, 2012 at 02:50 PM
This is a tragically sad story. My heart goes out to the entire Donato family. Jean will be remembered as a good woman who gave back to the community through her work at the BOE. I'm sure she knew her beloved family was by her side at the hospital. Well written article with many insights provided by her son, Bob, who was by her side at the hospital trying to comfort her.
SMosk March 30, 2012 at 10:18 PM
While this is such a heartbreaking and senseless accident that has occurred, I appreciate you sharing a little insight here on Jean Donato. As a friend of her son Bob, I realized I did not know his mother at all, but this article gave me a good feel for the type of wonderful person she truly must have been. Tragic events like this just make you realize how important living every day to the fullest is. She will definitely be missed. My condolences to Bob and the rest of her friends and family.
Dr. Noreen M. Sisko March 30, 2012 at 10:32 PM
What a beautiful tribute. Knowing Bob his wife Jean and their children, we are aware know how much they loved their mother and grandmother. After reading this article, I realize that she had a wonderful following of many that loved her. These tragic losses make us stop and think about our blessings and our hardships. Our sincere condolences to Bob and Jean. Noreen and Mark Sisko


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »