Tom O’Neill comforts Eileen Martinez at the Police Plaque Dedication Ceremony for Policewoman Stella Donahue and Policeman Daniel Meehan on Wednesday, May 25 at Sandyford Rd and Brous Ave. Donahue was O’Neill’s sister and Martinez’s mother.
Kevin Cook/for the Times
Eileen Martinez recalls her mother, Stella Donahue, loving her job as a Philadelphia police officer.
“She wanted to make a difference in this world,” her daughter said.
Donahue and her partner, Daniel Meehan, worked for the juvenile aid bureau.
On Jan. 11, 1957, they were investigating misbehaving teenagers when their patrol car went onto a median and struck a tree near Sandyford Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard. The officers were taken to Nazareth Hospital, where they were pronounced dead on arrival.
Meehan, 31, was a six-year veteran of the department. A Navy veteran of World War II, he was survived by his wife of two years.
Donahue, who lived at 6224 Hasbrook
Ave. in Lawndale, was 30 and had served for four years. She left a husband, Raymond, and her children, Eileen and Raymond. She was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham.
“I was heartbroken,” her daughter recalled.
The children attended St. William Grammar School, then St. Timothy while living with a grandmother on Stirling Street in Mayfair. Both graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School.
Today, Eileen is married with four sons and living in Kentucky. Her younger brother, who has three sons, is a professor at a Japanese college.
Until the last couple of weeks, neither knew that attorney James J. Binns and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 were planning a memorial plaque dedication for the two fallen officers on May 18 at Sandyford and Brous avenues.
“We were stymied,” Binns said, adding that retired Chief Inspector Jim Tiano and Capt. Dennis Gallagher usually succeed in finding long-lost relatives.
Linda Abby Fein was the sponsor for Donahue’s plaque, wanting to honor someone who was the first female police officer killed in the line of duty in Pennsylvania and the seventh nationally.
Fein conducted extensive online research. She read a portion of the book True Heroines and viewed the obituary of Raymond Donahue, who died on Jan. 11, 2010, exactly 53 years after his wife. He still lived on Hasbrook Avenue.
A week before the ceremony, Fein was able to locate a phone number for Martinez. Binns called the number and left a message, and Martinez called back ecstatic that her mother was going to be recognized more than 54 years after her death.
“It was shocking,” she said of the call. “It was a blessing out of the clear blue sky.”
No survivors of Meehan have been located.
The plaques were the 95th and 96th since the program began a decade ago.
Martinez, 64, met Fein for a cheesesteak dinner at Campo’s the night before the ceremony. Fein, a retired librarian who lives in the Holme Circle area, was delighted that Martinez dropped everything in Kentucky to make the trip to Philadelphia.
“I didn’t realize how much this meant to her,” she said.
Martinez was joined by her husband, uncle Tom O’Neill (Stella’s brother) and other relatives.
The office of state Sen. Tina Tartaglione presented a proclamation, and Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross and FOP Lodge 5 recording secretary Bob Ballentine handed roses to each family member to place on the plaques.
“We are so, so deeply touched,” Martinez said. “There are no words to say about what these people have done.”
Back in the 1950s, female police officers were often referred to as “cop-ettes” and were frequently assigned to the juvenile aid bureau. The Philadelphia Inquirer described the bureau as one that sought out truants, curfew-busters, runaways and “troubled girls who mixed liquor and men.”
Indeed, Donahue, Meehan and two other male officers were conducting a so-called “morals investigation.” They worked undercover, as the Philadelphia Bulletin reported, to verify reports that “teenage girls were drinking in taprooms, then slipping away with men to the second floor of a business after the bars closed.”
Donahue was driving her 1956 Mercury at the time of her death. She and Meehan were on their way to Linton’s Friendly Restaurant, on Cottman Avenue, to meet the other officers at about 4:50 a.m. when the accident happened.
The ceremony allowed Martinez to recall a lot of happy memories of her mom.
“We are so very, very proud of her,” her daughter said. “She was beautiful inside and out. She was a wonderful, loving mother. My mother is gone, but will never, never be forgotten.” ••
Anyone interested in sponsoring a plaque can contact James Binns at 215–275–3000.
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org