By Tracie Isaac & Patti Singer
Donald Starver, to many colleagues, friends, youth and community leaders was an example of sincere caring, giving and a concerned servant in our city. At the age of 56, Starver is said to be one of our heroes who was over taken by illness on April 18th. He is remembered as a consummate professional who was very active, fit and a great fisherman.
After Starver moved from Pittsburgh, PA and adopted Rochester as his new home, many local professionals connected with him in his role as City of Rochester Deputy Communications and Special Events Director, which he held for several years.
Along with his professional role, Starver was passionate about the community and spearheaded initiatives for the development of young men. Starver was always willing to support organizations and initiatives that offered empowerment and professional development opportunities for adults. He strongly believed in recognizing the impact and contributions of local role models and leaders.
Coming from a humble background and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Starver was very close with and proud of his family. In speaking with his three surviving siblings the bond and support of each other is very evident. Donald was the third of five children. He is preceded in death by his oldest sister Toye Starver and is survived by his mother Shirley Starver, one sister Kelly Starver, two brothers Randolph and Darryl Starver and a host of nieces and two nephews.
Starver was very passionate about people and seemed to have a superior instinct about what people need whether young or old. His sister Kelly shared that she believed that Donald was motivated by the divorce of their parents and became passionate about being a male role-model because of the absence of his father in his life. This may have fueled his emotion for young people especially young men because he could relate to the void.
Growing up Donald was very involved in various youth activities. He played Little League baseball for the Boys Club that he frequented. With growing up in the housing projects, Mrs. Starver made sure that her children received quality education by selecting schools outside of their home area for a different exposure. Often when Starver returned home to Pittsburgh he would visit the Boys Club of his youth because it was a very pivotal point in his life.
As a young boy, Starver was an avid reader. Younger brother Randolph shared, “He would read, read, read and when he didn’t have anything else to read he found something to read. He loved knowledge and wanted to know as much as he could about everything.”
Starver was a musician and played the saxophone. During his Peabody High School days, Starver was a Drum Major for the marching band. At Carnegie Mellon University where he earned a Bachelor of Science, he participated in the following activities: writer and photographer for Tartan, the college newspaper; President of SPIRIT (minority student organization) and was a member of the National Society of Black Engineers.
After college, Starver utilized his communications and strategic planning skills for companies such as Bausch & Lomb where he was the Director of Marketing for Ray-Ban Sunglasses. He later joined International Paper as a Category Manager for Business and Leisure Papers. Starver ventured on to be an entrepreneur as CEO/Owner of Apex Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning which was very successful with residential and commercial clients; followed by a partnership in Uniquely Uniforms, a uniform retail business with distribution channels consisting of a local store, on-line sales, and merchandise offered on e-Bay, Amazon and direct B-2-B sales.
The Minority Reporter obtained reflections from several individuals who interacted with Donald Starver and experienced his impact in our city. Mayor Lovely A. Warren and former staff member Tiana Stephens shared their thoughts with Patti Singer:
Mayor Lovely A. Warren: From the day that I met Donald Starver, he was a gentleman, who had a giving heart and a giving spirit. I don’t ever remember him being angry or getting angry with anyone. Up until the day he passed away he was literally helping people. The last time I saw him, he was bringing one of our people at City Hall some fish that he had caught because he didn’t want them to be without food. I saw him and had the opportunity to talk with him at that time. I called him when I heard that he was not feeling well. I reached out a couple of times and didn’t get a response. I knew that he lived alone. My last text to him was “You’re taking care of everybody else. Who is taking care of you? “He did not respond. I didn’t know when he passed away. But I am hopeful that he knew that this community truly loved him. You can see from the out pouring support that he received online and the heart break that many people have experienced that he was a great loss and a great friend to many.
MR (Patti Singer): We’ve heard from one of his staff members about his kindness and instincts about what people need. Did you see this in him?
Mayor Warren: Absolutely. It is hard to describe but you could just see that he was selfless, humble and compassionate. He could pick up on people having a bad day and knew what to say and when to say it to make people feel better. We were heartbroken when he decided to take another position that was a promotion to go to the Rochester City School District to lead their communications. Of course we weren’t looking for him to leave us but he let us know that he would always be there to support the work and that he believed in the vision. Even though he went on to a different position he never stopped working alongside the people that worked for the City of Rochester. He would often call or text to check in and continued to work on a number of different projects with the Black Heritage Committee, Black Men Achieve and My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Even though he took on a different role he never left our side. That was the type of person that he was.
MR (Patti Singer): Is there one instance that you can think of or word that could portray everything that you’ve read about him and when you close your eyes to think of him, it brings forth a memory that will always be with you?
Mayor Warren: I get a feeling that he will always be our angel. He was a walking Angel to me. I know that he had an impact on my life and the people that worked with him, that he was a caring and compassionate person. Seeing the tributes and witnessing the lives that he touched in so many different ways, everyone’s story and interaction with him was different but they were always genuine, always genuine. He is going to be a great loss and I know that the people he continued to work with just can’t believe that he is gone. I still can’t believe that he is gone, right now. It is very hard for me to imagine that.
MR (Patti Singer): Comments from Tiana Stephens on how she met Donald Starver.
Stephens: Donald Starver came to work for the City of Rochester during the beginning of Mayor Warren’s administration. I had been there one year prior, since 2013. I work as a writer and producer and met Donald Starver the day he began working as my supervisor for the City of Rochester Department of Communications. From day one he always treated all of us respectful, no matter the stature; he treated us like colleagues, team members, like a family. When times were stressful he was right there helping to do the hard work with us like writing proclamations, editing brochures and writing speeches. That said a lot about his leadership style. He was always very fair, very professional and he treated people with respect and kindness, all the way down to the interns at City Hall.
I shared something on my Facebook page about an intern’s experience on her first day at City Hall when she met him. She had a really bad day and he could sense that. He took the intern on a tour around the city and was really kind and thoughtful of other people.
I heard from one of our friends that Starver was sick and that he thought his symptoms were COVID. I sent him a text on April 7th but he did not respond. Again, I reached out to another friend who said that Starver didn’t really want to talk with anyone on the phone and wanted to rest in private. I took this message as part of his manner of not wanting to have anyone worry about him because he was always looking to help others.
Because of the vast impact that Donald Starver had on people Tracie Isaac obtained insight from James Smith, Deputy Mayor and Jermayne Myers, Founder of Black Men Achieve of Rochester on their experiences and observations of their beloved friend and colleague.
MR (Tracie Isaac): Deputy Mayor Smith, can you please share your thoughts on what it was like working with Donald Starver?
Smith: For me, I had the great honor of serving with Donald Starver when I first joined city government. When I came into the Communications Department (to replace the vacancy of the previous Director), Don was already there serving as the Deputy Director of Communications. He was a gentleman through and through and was so kind in getting me up to speed and helping me get my legs under me as far as getting plugged into city government and that department. I was really proud as we lead that department together. Donald loved helping people, particularly young people and spent time mentoring many, which was a labor of love for him. I was always impressed with the fact that while Rochester was Don’s adopted home town he really gave it his heart. We were all blessed by his generosity, spirit and his unwavering decency.
Donald was a man of faith and I believe that his faith came through when I say that he just had an unwavering decency about him. I often think that since Don’s passing I think of the Good Samaritan passages from the Bible and that “Donald was very much that good Samaritan.” He wouldn’t walk by someone on the side of the road and see someone in need and not stop to help them. I think if anyone knew Don during the course of the Corona era, he was reaching out to folks to help them if they needed things. Whether that was cleaning supplies or Personal Protective Equipment, food or anything else, he was this wonderfully decent individual who gave of himself freely. For me it is a shock that he passed away because he was so vibrant and so full of life. It is so very difficult to get my head around the fact that he is gone.
MR (Tracie Isaac): What are some of the key contributions that Donald Starver provided for your department?
Smith: Donald was in an instrumental role in making sure that we were on top of projects, executing and getting things done in the department. When I first arrived into communications, we worked almost immediately together on a large scale project which was the State of the City Address given by Mayor Warren the first year that I was there. We only had about a month to pull that together. Donald and I worked very closely together with our colleague Ted Capuano and the three of us made sure the speech came together and was what the mayor wanted and reflected her vision. There is a lot that goes into that type of event beyond the writing of the speech. We had to make sure that the venue was in place and Donald was on top of that and really was very skilled at not just writing but also some of the organizational components of events like that. He drew on experience that he had from the private sector when he worked at large companies. One of the local companies was Bausch & Lomb. He possessed some incredible communications skills, verbal, written, you name it he was able to deliver in the area of communications. I also want to mention that he had a very big space in his heart for our faith community. Anytime there was an event involving the faith community or even recognition where we had a local minister, pastor or priest who had a milestone event and the mayor was giving them some type of recognition, certificate or proclamation, Don really enjoyed working on those. I think he enjoyed connecting with the faith community and the opportunity to provide recognition for those who had a passion for what he had a passion for which was being a man of really significant faith.
MR (Tracie Isaac): Was there a philosophy or a key characteristic that you learned from Donald that we can pass on to others in his memory?
Smith: Don really just really had this amazing capacity and it was very disarming for some folks that he could make you feel comfortable and make you want to work and interact with him. He was all about “we“ and not about “me.” He was humble and had a very gentle, decent way about him and it brought the best out of people, particularly when he was working on projects in a setting where there were a number of people collaborating or working on a committee. He was able to get the most out of people because he made it about “we” instead of “me”. He was a very giving person and he loved Rochester because he gave us his heart. He loved and adored his family very much and often spoke about them in Pittsburg. He was even a huge Pittsburg Steelers fan. I have to say that he really excelled at working in a group setting.
MR (Tracie Isaac): Jermayne Myers, founder of Black Men Achieve of Rochester and also Assistant to the Director of Security for the City of Rochester, is easily recognizable to many city residents, unless you mistake him for his identical twin brother Jamarr Myers. How did you meet Donald Starver?
Jermayne Myers: I first interacted with Donald Starver in 2012. Fishing is something that I liked to do occasionally and wanted to begin taking it seriously. So, I went to the Lower Gorge of the Genesee River to try salmon fishing. I realized that he didn’t have a fishing license or the right equipment but decided to walk around and watch other people catch fish. After walking around for about an hour, I was approached by a voice coming from behind me saying, “You look like you could use some help.” I turned around to see a black man with “strange looking eyes.” I responded, “How did you know?” Starver replies, “You are wearing all black, dress pants and good shoes.” The two of them laughed and Starver immediately took Myers aside and began to teach him everything he needed to know about fishing.
(A year later, Myers unexpectedly ran into Starver again helping out on a political campaign. Ever since that second meeting the two became close friends with Myers referring to him as his adopted uncle.)
In 2017, I had a vision to do work in the community to help improve the lives of men and young boys of color. As a youth, I had many difficult experiences in which I felt the need for the men in my life to “step up” but they didn’t. I and my siblings went through tough times trying to adjust to the loss of our parents and I didn’t want other kids to go through some of the same difficulties. Realizing that Starver also worked for the City of Rochester I approached him with my vision. Starver replied, “I am there! Whatever you need me to do I am there to help you.”
(Starver helped Myers to craft what is known today as the Black Men Achieve of Rochester. Volunteering as vice president, Starver was in charge of all of the BMA programs and services the organization provides to the community and was also the executive producer for the Black Men Achieve Awards Gala.)
Donald was known as the strict loving uncle within the BMA family of staff and volunteers. He meant so much to the team and did a lot to help everyone in their individual endeavors. He will be truly missed by everyone. With the success and growth of the BMA organization Donald was appointed to executive director and was slated to provide activities for over 2,000 youth. Although the BMA programs and gala for 2020 were interrupted by COVID-19, the team is restructuring BMA and the gala will be rescheduled for 2021.
It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye….
Like so many of you, we learned of the tragic death of our friend and fellow TNT Board Member, Donald Starver, yesterday, April 18, 2020. As the community mourns the loss of such a dedicated servant, one can’t help but feel the love in the numerous FB posts about how he personally made a difference in their lives, and the lives of others.
Donald had recently joined the TNT Board in the second half of 2019, and not only did he bring his incredible background in marketing and communications, he also brought the spirit of Harambee, which means “all pull together”. Donald immediately put his skills to work as our Communications Chair by elevating TNT’s social media presence on Facebook, redesigning our newsletter, cleaning up our member email distribution list, and he would often be seen running around at the TNT Monthly Events with his camera; capturing moments for eternity.
Our sincerest condolences go out to his family and friends. We hope that your memories bring you comfort in this time of bereavement. Whether you’ve known Donald for years, or only a few months, we hope the memory of his smiling face as he anticipated a punch line, only to let out his hearty laughter, causes you to laugh again, as it does for us.
Rest in Heavenly Peace our Friend.
Board of Directors, True Networking Thursdays
A Personal Message from Kimberly Mitchell, President – True Networking Thursdays:
Inspired Service. That is the gift Donald gave me and I will cherish it for life. He was the epitome of “random acts of kindness” and you didn’t even have to know him to be a beneficiary of that. I consider myself fortunate that he did know me by face and by name and the tears in my eyes and the ache in my heart tell me that he is gone way too soon but his soul will live on eternally in the hearts of others.
I beg you all to heed the warnings and do everything you can to maintain your health and the health of others. This virus has many different manifestations and you won’t know which one you have until it’s too late. These are not just numbers being reported; every number has a name and every name has a face. It’s just a matter of time before it’s a face that you know and love. Be well.
NOTE: Due to the quarantine and public gathering restrictions a tribute will be announced at a later date.