Four-O'Clock Flowers Around
the World Cancer Memorial
Original Printed Version of This Article
Jim Donahoe’s four-o’clock plants are blooming across the world, thanks to the determination of his son, Kevin. For Kevin Donahoe, the annual anticipation of the first bloom of the four-o’clocks at his home in Bucktown is a bittersweet reminder of his father. Yet, he has found a way to carry on his dad’s legacy through a project that has blossomed into a national cancer-awareness campaign.
Donahoe’s “Four-o’clocks Around the World” project is his way of honoring his father’s memory while calling attention to the importance of early cancer detection and research. Donahoe’s father, Jim, spent his life in the New Orleans area. From his early childhood through his death in April 1994, the elder Donahoe had a special affinity for the four-o’clock plant. As a child, he would string the plants together. As an adult, he experimented with the cultivation of unique varieties, and it was not uncommon for guests to leave his Metairie home carrying seeds and pieces of plants wrapped in dampened paper towels and aluminum foil.
The spring of 1994 was a difficult time for the Donahoe family. As Jim Donahoe awaited the appearance of the first blooms of his beloved plants, his health was failing. He was losing his battle with cancer. “As the plants grew taller than spring, my father seemed to grow weaker,” Kevin said. “My father’s last wish was to see the four-o’clocks bloom one last time.”
“On the afternoon of April 5, 1994, we could see the beginning of buds on the plants, and I remember my dad saying, ‘maybe tomorrow,’ but he never saw his plants bloom again. My father passed away early on the morning of April 6.”
A couple of weeks after his father’s death, Kevin noticed that one of his father’s four-o’clock plants was blooming. And it was then that he had the idea to share his father’s plant with others, symbolically fulfilling his last request to see his four-o’clocks bloom once more.
Kevin decided to contact local postmasters in an effort to get his dad’s four-o’clocks planted in every state. He also sent letters and seeds to the governor of each state explaining his idea. “The response was overwhelming,” Donahoe said. “The postmasters shared the letter with their employees and the governors shared their letters with their wives. My original intent was to share the response letters with mom at home with only family present, and it turned into a presentation at the City Park’s Botanical Gardens with more than 100 people.”
Dot Donahoe was presented with 50 love stamps framed to represent each state participating in the planting project honoring her husband. “Kevin’s project has touched lives and brought people closer together within our organization,” said Pamela York, executive director of communications with the U.S. Postal Service. York lost both her parents to cancer. “Kevin’s courage and tenacity have made this project the success it is.”
In 1996, Kevin sent letters with seeds to kings, queens, ambassadors and other leaders across the globe. Also joining the project are more than 200 celebrities including Dan Ackroyd, James Brolin, Leeza Gibbons, Whoopie Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, William Shatner, Martha Stewart, and Vanna White.
And in 1996, Kevin was recognized by President Clinton for his efforts to raise cancer awareness.
“My father would have been blown away by the responses we’ve received,” Kevin said. “I believe he would be very proud of what we’ve done to raise cancer awareness.” “My dream is that the four-o’clocks will serve as a unifying symbol of hope for persons battling all forms of cancer. And hope that a cure will be discovered.”
Copyright 2009 New Orleans, Louisiana