Donegal people have shaped the history of America at both local and national level for decades.
From leaders in business to sport and from politics to volunteerism, the fingerprints of Donegal people are on every state in the US.
One such man was Peter J. McDevitt Jnr who passed away last weekend at the age of 88 years having contributed so much to society.
This is his story.
Peter Joseph McDevitt, Jr. 88, passed away peacefully on Saturday, July 31, 2021. He was born in Mount Kisco, New York on February 3, 1933. Peter was predeceased by his parents Peter Joseph McDevitt, Sr. and Beatrice (Doherty) McDevitt, and his oldest daughter Mariaelana McDevitt.
Peter’s parents, Irish immigrants, sent Peter back to Donegal, Ireland to be raised by his maternal grandparents until he was six. At that time, his return to the United States via the S.S. Cameronia, was chronicled in a New York Times article highlighting that Peter was a six-year old, travelling alone from the old country, who could only speak Gaelic.
Peter grew up in Greenwich, CT where he attended St. Mary’s School. He attended high school at the Irish Christian Brothers school for boys until his junior year, when he promptly withdrew himself and registered himself at Greenwich High School. At Greenwich, Peter quickly excelled in athletics. He held numerous records in track and field as well as in swimming and soccer.
In 1951, Peter enlisted in The United States Marine Corps, Seventh Battalion, 1st Division. Despite being an only child, he was a volunteer in the first unit of all draftees. Peter was deployed to Korea, where he fought in two major engagements. He was wounded in his first battle, but he asked to return soon after.
During his second engagement, he was critically wounded and spent six months on a hospital ship before being sent home. As a result of his service, Peter earned two Purple Hearts, The Korean Service Medal, and The State of Connecticut Armed Military Service Medal. Upon his return to the states, he decided to attend college and his first choice was UCONN. His decision to attend UCONN, served as a roadmap for the rest of his life.
Peter was a three-sport varsity athlete at UCONN, ten-year record holder in the mile run, and a Captain and three-time letter winner in men’s soccer. He served as student government president and was a proud and loyal member of Lambda Chi Alpha.
After graduating Summa Cum Laude from UCONN in 1958, Peter earned his M.S. in secondary education at the University of Bridgeport. In 1961, Peter returned to Greenwich High School to teach health and coach boys soccer, swimming, track, and ultimately wrestling. Over his tenure at Greenwich High School, he developed state championship teams in both swimming and soccer.
He coached Greenwich to its first Boys Soccer CIAC State Championship. That same year, Peter went on to start the first high school wrestling program in a Connecticut public high school. In 1964, he returned to UCONN as assistant men’s soccer and swimming coach to one of his mentors, Dr. John V. Squires. In 1966, he was named Aquatic Director and Swim Coach, and professor of physical education. Later that year, Peter was selected by the state department to travel to Iraq to coach wrestling and track. While in Iraq, Peter established the first national swimming program for their country.
In 1974 Peter established the first collegiate women’s swimming program in the eastern United States. That year, they earned numerous top five finishes at the New England Championship and top ten finishes at ECAC Championship meets. In 1979, the Huskies hosted the first ever BIG EAST conference meet where they were among the top finishers.
In 1980, he was the recipient of the prestigious “Master Coach Award” presented by the National College Swimming Coaches Association for outstanding service to collegiate coaching and the University. In 2016 he was inducted into the University of Connecticut Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame. Some of Peter’s most precious coaching memories were of coaching his own four children and their teammates in the AAU Suburban Summer Swimming League out of Pautipaug Country Club. He and his family enjoyed many summers there and made many lifelong friends.
Peter had a heart of gold and he loved being a parent, coach, and educator more than life itself. He opened his family’s home to anyone who needed a meal, a place to stay, or even just a listening ear. He will be greatly missed by many. If you grew up in the area, chances are that he may have taught you how to swim. If he knew you, and he saw you and thought that you were “out of shape,” he’d tell you. He was an avid runner who logged many miles at both local and regional road races; The Rose Arts road race was among his favorites.
After hanging up his running shoes, he could often be seen riding his bike around eastern Connecticut. In their golden years, he and Lorraine made up for any lost time by enjoying the beach, travelling to Maine and attending Devin’s field hockey games at Windham High School and ECSU, and watching Michael Finn excel in Jiu jitsu.
Peter is survived by the love of his life and his wife of 62 years, Lorraine McDevitt (Montimurro). He is also survived by his three children: his son Peter McDevitt and his wife Susan (Bankowski), his son Ian Michael McDevitt and his daughter-in-law Andrea (Lord), and his daughter Melanie Godbout and her husband Dana.
Additionally, Peter is survived by the lights of his life, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren: Devin Maria Godbout, Michael Finn McDevitt, Robert Gamache, and Hollie Christine Gamache and her children Connor and Emma Cobb. Peter’s family will receive relatives and friends on Thursday, August 5, 2021 from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Potter Funeral Home, 456 Jackson St., Willimantic, CT. Due to the rise in COVID-19, we ask that masks be worn during calling hours.
In lieu of flowers memorial donations can be made in Peter’s name to the Windham High School Booster Club, 355 High Street, Willimantic, CT 06226, in support of one of his greatest passions, high school athletics. To sign an online guestbook visit www.potterfuneralhome.com
This obituary first appeared on www.legacy.com