Silver City man remembered as gruff but gifted surveyor

William Michael Donovan was remembered at his memorial service Saturday as a crusty, independent man who gave people what-for in no uncertain terms.

But he later became a more gentle and loving man, thanks to the birth of his second son, Joseph, now 11, who was credited with softening up the longtime Comstock miner, according to Patricia Donovan, a daughter from his first marriage

"I'm so glad Cindy and Joseph came into his life," Patricia said. "Joseph taught him to love and forgive and I'll always be grateful."

Donovan, known as "Mike" was remembered at a memorial service Saturday at the Masonic Hall in Virginia City his wife, Cindy, his children, Patricia, William Jr. and Joseph, sisters Sheila and Terry Donovan and about 200 friends and business associates. He died Monday in his home in Silver City. A coroner's investigation is not yet complete, but Lyon County officials have said Donovan's death was most likely from natural causes.

The Donovan family goes back several generations on the Comstock, and his memorial was attended by a virtual Who's Who of the heart of the Virginia City and Silver City communities. Donovan's father was a successful miner until World War II, when the federal government forced a halt to gold and silver mining, Sheila Donovan said. Later, when silver was desirable for use in photography, it was too late. The tunnels had caved in.

Mike Donovan was a surveyor who owned land and mining claims in Storey and Lyon counties.

He was instrumental in surveying the line for the reconstructed V&T Railroad.

Ken Dorr, project engineer for the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway, credited Donovan with giving an enormous contribution to the reconstruction effort. He said Donovan did the initial surveys when the project began in 1996.

"Mike was instrumental on the V&T project," he said. "We would not be where we are today without him."

Referring to Mike Donovan's legendary crusty exterior, Dorr said he remembered being told to "quit your sniveling, crotchety," by the surveyor. "And if that wasn't a case of the pot calling the kettle black," he said to laughter.

Donovan's surveying work was his life and many speakers honored his skill.

Steve Hilliard, a surveyor for Lumos and Associates, said Donovan's work was legendary. "I never met a finer boundary line surveyor than Mike and I don't think I ever will," he said.

Patricia Donovan, now a marine biologist in North Carolina, said her father loved surveying. "You could stand by my dad's markers," she said. "He loved this country and he loved Nevada. He loved his job and he loved these towns."

John Tyson said Donovan was a reflection of the true Nevadan, rough edges and all.

"He reflected the spirit of the people who crossed the 40-mile desert in 1851," Tyson said. "When I take a train through Tunnel 2, I'll blow the whistle for Mike Donovan."

In addition to his surveying work and mining, Donovan also served as an assistant coach for the Dayton Valley Soccer League, which included kids from Virginia City.

Admitting that her father wasn't particularly demonstrative, Patricia Donovan implored those gathered to embrace their families.

"If you have unfinished business with your family, when you leave here, tell them you love them, because you never know when they will be taken," she said.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 882-2111 ext. 351.


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