“In an arena dominated by individuals who thrive on the ego-feeding recognition that comes with competition, Gentleman Jim Donaldson was an anomaly. He was quiet, unassuming, and polite. He was conscientious, caring, and concerned. It was the same whether his teams were winning or losing. He was Gentleman Jim,” wrote then-Providence Journal Sports Writer Paul Kenyon in 1995 following the death of longtime Tolman High School Basketball Coach James Donaldson.
Jim grew up in the Smith Hill section of Providence, graduated from LaSalle Academy at 16, and earned a degree in education at Rhode Island College. He was a standout in college as a member of his school’s baseball, track, and basketball teams. Rhode Island College inducted him into its inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame class.
Jim’s long teaching and coaching career followed a stint in the Navy as a dive bomber pilot in the Pacific during World War II. He taught and coached at both LaSalle Academy and St. Raphael before joining the Pawtucket public schools, where he taught at Goff Junior High and then at Tolman, where he coached from 1965 until his retirement 15 years later.
“He loved coaching and the kids loved to play for him. He’d tell them, ‘I will help you be as good as you would like to try to be’,” his son Jim explains, noting that although it had been nearly 50 years since his father had coached at LaSalle, all five of the starters attended his wake. “That’s the kind of effect he had on people,” Jim states.
The James Donaldson Scholarship has been awarded annually at Tolman High School since 1995. “We wanted to do something to honor the Jim Donaldson type of player, someone who would put the team first. One of the nice things is that at Tolman, the scholarship signifies certain things that people look up to,” Jim says.
The fund was transferred to the Foundation where, Jim explains, “it will be better managed. It just makes a lot more sense to have it in the hands of the Foundation.”