Every story is only as good as its narrator, with the best doubling as the audience’s tour guide through the plot while also sharing in the shock of the twists that come. Behind the mic for the City of Falls Church’s story is Rob Donovan, whose jovial tone, Yankee delivery and altruistic spirit embodies the best of what the City represents. It’s why his stint as the Grand Marshal in this year’s Memorial Day Parade & Festival is as much a celebration of him as it is the Falls Church City community itself.
Donovan has a knack for voicing the unspoken sentiment of the moment in a way few others can. It gives him a down-to-earth vibe with an effortless prescience that leaves an impression on those he comes across. Spreading his essence to a level of near Citywide popularity all stems from his affinity for one three-letter word.
“I’ve always said ‘Yes’ to any request,” Donovan told the News-Press, who referenced his 14 years as Glen Forest Community Association president in the Fairfax County side of Falls Church — 10 of which were spent when he wasn’t even living in the neighborhood — as testament. “I always do anything I can to help an organization or an individual. I loved all the things I was able to do by being with the good people of Falls Church City.”
No ask has ever been too great for Donovan.
Take his tenure on the board of the Creative Cauldron as an example. Donovan is no thespian, nor is he necessarily a religious consumer of the arts. But he is a guy who happened to be strolling by the Falls Church theater one afternoon and was easily cajoled into helping paint the set hours before showtime. The short window Donovan spent with Cauldron’s team that day allowed him to see the theatre’s commitment to quality first-hand. Over a decade later, he’s proud to say he’s played a role in it blossoming into one of the area’s standout regional theaters.
Or how about possibly his most well-known role — the Voice of Mustangs Athletics — and its humble origins.
Before he was calling football and soccer games with his typical panache at George Mason High School (and singing the national anthem acapella to appease a referee with a stick up his you-know-what), Donovan got his start in the local minors, a.k.a Little League. It was baptism-by-fire for him at an all-star game between Falls Church and McLean, and a first glimpse at the comical candor he would be bringing to the community for the years that followed.
“The Falls Church team was down about 5-2 and McLean was batting, so I’m providing some color and I say, ‘Ok Falls Church, the bases are loaded; that means there’s a force out at any base. Be on the lookout for a groundball, then throw to home and try to double from there,” Donovan said. “Officials from the league were banging on the door of the announcers booth trying to stop me, parents are screaming at me from the stands, all while my other parent friends were doubled-over laughing. I was eventually banished. I felt like I was set up.”
Whether with friends at a function or sometimes just walking around town, Donovan would get some small-town fanfare thanks to his distinct pipes. It’s not a life the former member of the U.S. Navy and later public relations employee for the U.S. Energy Association expected, but he’s happy to bless the Little City with a bit of his big city Bronxiness (his wife and longtime Brooklynite, Kathleen, would dispute he’s more Long Island than Bronx, but we’re staying out of the New York City turf wars in this cheery feature).
Just like there can be only one Highlander, there can be only one Grand Marshal. But if Donovan could split the role with this family, like Lindsey Lohan did with the tiara at the end of “Mean Girls,” he’d do it without hesitation.
He actually feels like the least deserving person in receiving this honor between his wife and two children, Daniel and Mary Catherine. Donovan says all the credit goes to his kids for being so active in the school system and so open to making new friends that often he and Kathleen were merely in tow to the children’s social lives. And amongst him and Kathleen, he credits her lengthy service as the PTA president for putting him in the mix with so many people.
To Donovan, Daniel and Mary Catherine did the outreach with Kathleen then showing why she’s the heart and soul of the family unit. He just hopes there’s some room for a few more people on the parade float come Monday. But amidst all this humility, Donovan misses what he offers to those he feels a party to. It’s one of the curses of living in the moment; thankfully, his family is there to remind him of what he means to them.
“I got a text from Daniel the other day saying, ‘Dad, I just can’t wait to fly home Thursday night. I’m so excited to be with you for the weekend. You’ve always been bigger than life and you so deserve this honor. I’m so proud that I can share it with you,’” Donovan said.
Surely more than a few people would agree.
Now all Donovan has to do is decide what will become of that beard of his.