When District 15 Director Phyllis Harlan met her at the table recently, she was impressed with Donnelly’s energy. “I can’t believe how much she does – at 94!” Harlan said.
“She’s probably shaving a few years off of that,” Peggy Sutherlin joked.
Donnelly says she would play even more except that she doesn’t like to drive too far because of dry eye. She also has a hearing problem but is glad to not have any other problems. “I walk fast,” Donnelly says. “Godfrey (Chang) always laughs at me when I’m helping much younger people to walk.”
Originally from Tokyo, Donnelly moved to Honolulu in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state. She became an American citizen a few years later and became friends with the head of the local immigration office.
In the early 1970s, Donnelly spent two and a half years in the Washington DC area while her husband was working there. It was there that she got into bridge, initially playing social bridge at home in her apartment in Alexandria VA. She wanted to form a club for social players, but some of the other players she recruited played duplicate, and they pulled her in.
“I made lots of friends because of that,” Donnelly says. “People were just so marvelous.” She paused to remember some of the top players she made connections with in Washington. “When you get old, names and nouns disappear.”
Upon returning to Hawaii in 1973, she began working as an interpreter for her friend in the immigration office. Others who worked at the federal building also needed interpreter services, so she became very busy. “At the same time, I was playing bridge all the time,” she says.
And winning. In the past 45 years or so, Donnelly has accumulated a little more than 9800 points. She’s looking forward to making Platinum Life Master. “That’s my aim – to get to 10,000.” If she keeps going at her current pace, she’ll be there in a year. She’ll be the third one in Hawaii, after Chang and Tom Lum.
At local tournaments this year, Donnelly has won four events and placed second in four others. Though she could be getting closer to her goal this week by playing in regional events, she’s taken the harder route, playing in the Blue Ribbon Pairs and the Nail Life Master Pairs. She qualified for the second day in the Super Senior Pairs playing with Lum.
But masterpoints aren’t her only goal.
“Bridge is a wonderful game to keep your mind alert and to make friends,” Donnelly says. “Thank goodness at 94 my mind is still sort of alert.” She paused a beat and added her punchline. “Sort of.”