Born at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Donna attended Mrs. Mortimer’s kindergarten on School Street in Edgartown, the Edgartown School, and Dana Hall. She graduated from Saint Mary’s Academy, following which she attended Radcliffe College. She obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing at the University of Florida, where she went on to teach psychiatric nursing.
While living in Florida, Donna was very active in the 1960s Civil Rights movement. She was often one of only two white people marching in demonstrations; the other white person was her young daughter. She did an exposé on the inequality of separate-but-equal, using photographs of the “colored” elementary school’s decrepit facilities. Following the cleanup of the school, she sent her son to attend it, where he was the only enrolled white student. She opened her backyard pool to the American Red Cross so they could provide swimming lessons to children of color, because those children were not allowed to swim in the pool where white students took lessons.
Donna moved to Connecticut in 1976, becoming Executive Director and lobbyist of the Connecticut Nurses Association and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Nursing at Yale University. In 1980 she served as interim Director of Patient Care Services at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, charged with recruiting a permanent occupant for her position. Her task complete, she spent the next 6 months in Paris, working on her French at the Alliance Francaise.
Donna returned to the United States in 1981 to become Director of Nursing at Passaic General Hospital in New Jersey. She later served as Director of Quality Assurance at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She finished her career in the private practice of psychiatric nursing in Plainfield, New Jersey, where she lived for 26 years before moving to Martha’s Vineyard full-time in 2012. In Plainfield she served on the boards of the Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center and the Plainfield Health Center. She was elected to the Plainfield City Council and also served on the Plainfield Planning Board.
Donna enjoyed gin and tonics on the front porch, harpooned swordfish, her family boathouse on Edgartown harbor, sailing, garden parties, watching birds on her backyard feeder, shopping for the new season’s Lillys, operas at the Met, the Plainfield Symphony, the smells of a salt marsh, travel to exotic places, learning to cook the foods she ate while traveling, and influencing world affairs from her chair in front of the television set.
She is survived by her husband, Gregory Palermo of Edgartown; her daughter, Julie Anne Rowell of Miami; her son, James K. Rowell of Edgartown; and grandchildren. She is also survived by her siblings, Dennise Croft and her husband, Louis, of Hubbardston; Dianne Durawa and her husband, Thomas, of Edgartown; and Warren Vose and his wife, Anne, of Edgartown.
A memorial celebration for friends and family will be held August 30.
In place of flowers, donations may be sent to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.