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Don Richard Michael

Don Richard Michael

Sunday, September 27th, 2020
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Michael, Don R.

Age 73 of Stow, formerly of Wellesley, died peacefully at home in the company of his beloved wife and daughters on Sunday, September 27th, 2020.

Born in Springfield, he was the son of Max and Leona (Philleson) Michael. He excelled academically and was the recipient of many merit scholarships. Don earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University, an MS in Environmental Engineering from Northeastern University, and an MBA from Babson College. Enthusiastic about gathering people together, he helped organize both the Technical High School and Tufts University reunions for many years.

Don served five years as a pilot and flight instructor in the US Navy. He always said the greatest ride of his life was a catapult shot off the bow of an aircraft carrier. After concluding his service, he continued flying privately with good friends.

He worked as an environmental engineer for four decades, providing consulting services to energy-related clients worldwide. He managed environmental analysis, site selection, permitting, engineering and testing of more than 150 power projects. He evaluated energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for large commercial and industrial development projects and directed studies in the water treatment, wastewater, hydrothermal, hydrologic, noise control and air quality disciplines.

Don loved to travel. His work took him to far-off places, including Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Japan and Bangladesh. He also treasured the chance to travel with his family and friends, meticulously planning every step of the itinerary for their enjoyment. He also savored years of camping with his family in the Berkshires, and organized many fishing and hiking trips with old friends.

An avid woodworker and furniture maker, Don referred to himself as the “perpetual novice.” He especially loved eighteenth-century American furniture, almost as much as he loved acquiring new tools. He was a longtime member of the Eastern Massachusetts Guild of Woodworkers, serving on the Executive Board as Vice President and leading the committee responsible for speaker presentations. Along with bringing his management expertise to the Executive Board, Don led the Guild’s Furniture Interest Group for eight years and started a workshop group that met weekly to collaborate on projects. Don was also a member of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers and the Guild of New Hampshire Woodworkers.

Woodworking can be a solitary avocation. Don found a way to make it a social gathering that was relished by everyone involved. Guild members and friends looked forward to his articles and emails describing both his successes and “new design opportunities.” His great sense of humor provided a vehicle for sharing his knowledge and love of woodworking.

An inveterate teacher, Don taught his daughters how to mow the lawn, trim the hedges, snowblow, hang drywall, bait a hook, and drive a stick shift. He loved Formula One Grand Prix and vintage car racing. Consequently, he drove too fast, rounding exit ramps like he was on the track, coaching his family to “leave room for drift.”

Yet he was also content to slow down and sit quietly by the fire with his family and a dog. His life was enriched tremendously by the loyal companionship of two dachshunds, one boxer, four Boston terriers and a viszla.

Don was an “engineer’s engineer,” a perfectionist with little patience for inefficiency. He served as his own general contractor for home renovations, designed and created a craft room for his wife, and in numerous projects, expressed his love through meticulous planning and research. He was our own in-house Consumer Reports.

A committed DIY-er, Don saw no reason to pay for something he knew he could do better himself. Yet he was generous and quick to show up for his friends, neighbors and even strangers with his hammer, chainsaw or hauling trailer. To his friends and family, he was the go-to guide for hashing through difficult decisions or for help in a crisis. He welcomed friends to share the family home during tough times without question. You knew where you stood with Don. If he thought you were wrong he would tell you so, and, if he thought you were right, he would support you with everything he had.

Don and Catherine were fortunate enough to lovingly gather into their family over 135 foreign exchange students from five of the seven continents. As a surrogate dad, Don helped them to navigate a new culture. He was particularly proud of his adopted family, including: son Dr. Ruben Azocar and his family, daughters Cora Thompson and Kendra Cestone, grandkids Taedyn and Tucker, and many, many treasured friends.

Positive and brave, Don fought recurring bouts of lymphoma for 36 years with resiliency and determination. His doctors respected and admired him for his active involvement in his own care. Knowing the value of the support of friends and family, he honestly and openly kept them abreast of his difficult journey. In his last days, and with great effort, he insisted on dictating a final email expressing his gratitude for their steadfast love and care.

His spirit is carried on by Catherine, his beloved wife of 52 years, daughter Courtney Michael and her husband Rumel Mahmood and grandchildren Max and Leo, daughter Audrey Michael, sister Patricia Benda, and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and in-laws.

Don was disappointed he would not be able to vote in November. Please think of him when you cast your vote for scientific truth, the defense of the environment, and the unconditional acceptance of all people.

A gathering to celebrate his life will be held at a later date. We invite you to honor Don’s memory by making a contribution to the Mass General Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital via giving.nwh.org, or to the Environmental Defense Fund at edf.org.

Memorial page actonfuneralhome.com
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Service Details

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    A Life Celebration is planned for a later date.
    A gathering to celebrate his life will be held at a later date. We invite you to honor Don’s memory by making a contribution to the Mass General Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital via giving.nwh.org, or to the Environmental Defense Fund at edf.org.


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Private Condolence

Tom Shirley

Posted at 01:17pm
Don was everything written in his obituary and more. There was much more to Don than I ever knew. I'm sure everyone he touched has their own stories. I only met Don about 5 years ago when I joined the woodworking guild. He spent so much time and effort making the guild what it is today. His influence is felt in every aspect of the guild. I miss him and will continue to do so. My condolences to Catherine and the rest of the family.

Vincent Valvo

Posted at 12:06pm
Pictured is Don Michael volunteering to make Christmas gifts for Toy's for Tots.

This message was written to the members of Eastern Massachusetts Guild of Woodworkers (EMGW) as a tribute to our friend and fellow member. We would like to share our thoughts and remembrances with Don's extended family and friends.

Many of you know that Don Michael has had several bouts of cancer over the years. Sometimes at guild or Furniture Interest Group (FIG) meetings you may have seen Don wear a hat or maybe had an unusually short haircut at times. Those were generally a result of chemotherapy treatments. Don had been a cancer survivor for 36 years. But because of Don’s remarkable positive attitude, strength, and perseverance the results of those chemo treatments could easily have been overlooked as a fashion statement or work from an overly aggressive barber. Don would acknowledge the effort it took to maintain a sense of normalcy after yet another recurrence of the cancer but he more often credited his support from his family, with his devoted wife Cathy leading the way, and friends who allowed him to carry on as if it were just another bump in the road to a greater future ahead.

Don Michael passed away on September 26 at 11 p.m. With that utterly sad moment, we are left to remember the grace, style, kindness, and wit that Don shared with us over many years. In speaking with other guild members it was a common judgement that Don was the glue – perhaps even the soul – of the guild. Don was as active in the guild as one could possibly be. He was devoted to its success and shaped many of its bylaws, subgroups, activities, and culture. From executive management, to numerous committee memberships, to offering safety advice, to leading the FIG group, to writing articles, Don did it all. You all have stories and memories of Don. Who could forget the monthly Perpetual Novice column he wrote for the EMGW website?

There were many sides to Don. He was smart. His memory for facts, however trivial or paramount, about the guild was stunning. He was witty. His wit and self-deprecating humor was legendary – even perpetual. He was kind. Don would offer advice when requested or when it needed clarification. If a tool was what you were interested in, he’d have a review ready to cover the issue or a worthy suggestion to gain more detail or breadth. Don was mature. There was an aura of wisdom about Don. It was the norm to receive the unvarnished, straightforward truth about an issue in woodworking or otherwise.

But what Don wasn’t, was a novice. It was legendary of Don starting new projects before the current one wasn’t finished. There was always another challenge to master. So what if the project was dismissed to the unfinished pile, Don’s curiosity and appetite for learning new techniques moved him to try something new. Being a novice implies an amateurish workmanship. There was nothing amateurish about Don. He was a continual learner, no matter how accomplished he was. And his learning extended into topics, not exclusively about woodworking.

Learning how to deal with cancer was something he worked on. He was a model for expressing his concerns, his steps to recovery, his schedule of treatment activities, his understanding of the disease, and above all his honesty. Truly, Don was a model patient – understanding, organized, and positive. Not an ounce of pity. The guild has lost a key individual. This man will be missed. But Don leaves a guild much in his own image. We are grateful for that and for sharing himself with us in such remarkable ways. Our future as a guild is and will be greater because of Don. May he rest in peace.


Ruben Azocar Posted at 12:49pm

I was blessed and lucky to call Don Michael my American Dad. He instilled on me discipline, excellence and resilience. He was a giant of a man and I will miss him profoundly. However, his legacy will continue for years in all of us who were touch (and in my case guided, mentored and even reprimanded) by his wisdom, humor and generosity.

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