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In Memory

Donald Starver

A former top aide to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has died. Donald Starver, a native of Pittsburgh, served as the City of Rochester’s Deputy Director of Communications and Special Events from 2014 to 2017. He also had worked as a communications officer for the Rochester City School District.

A statement released by Warren on Saturday night says that, “It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the passing of my friend and former colleague.” Warren says that Starver was a founding member of Rochester’s My Brother’s Keeper and Pillars of Hope initiatives, mentoring many of the city’s young boys and men of color and providing positive support to city students.

Warren says that, “Donald’s legacy will be deep and lasting; as one who was always seeking to aid those in need. I offer my condolences to his family and many friends and associates in City government and throughout our community

From the "Rochester Democrat and Chronicle"

Donald Starver's last texts to his friend Tamara Leigh were typical of Donald Starver.

The texts came in late March, and he asked if she and her children needed anything as the world was shuttering.

"He was asking if me and my sons were OK and if we had everything we needed," she said Monday. "I'm a diabetic and I haven’t been going outside much. That's just who he was. He was always that person who just wanted to make sure everyone was OK."

That trait — what Mr. Starver's friends describe as "pure kindness" — is what has made his death late last week all the more difficult to comprehend. Mr. Starver, 56, died at his city home, his friends say.

According to friends, he suspected he had been stricken with COVID-19 in the weeks before his death, but no specific information or confirmation was available Monday and his immediate family, who do not live in the Rochester area, could not be reached.

Over the weekend, memorials to Mr. Starver, who previously served as the city's deputy director of communications, popped up time and time again on social media. A mentor to young people of color, Mr. Starver was an integral player in local initiatives that provided counseling and assistance in impoverished neighborhoods.

"I know 'kind' can be a generic word, but he had the kindest, most sincere heart," said Tiana Stephens, who worked with Mr. Starver at City Hall.

Mr. Starver helped found Pillars of Hope, in which black and Hispanic men counsel city school students, and he was central to the local My Brother's Keeper initiative, carrying out the President Obama-created program which challenged community leaders to create a "cradle to college and career" strategy for its young people.

"Donald’s legacy will be deep and lasting, as one who was always seeking to aid those in need," Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said of Mr. Starver, who served as the city's deputy director of communications and special events from 2014 to 2017.

Whether Mr. Starver's cause of death was COVID-related may not become publicly known, but he was insistent in helping those in need during these trying times, his friends say.

"When the pandemic first started out he was reaching out to people to see what do you need," said Stephens, who was the recipient of cleaning spray Starver had.

In particular, Stephens said, Mr. Starver was trying to help older residents and single parents with children.

"I think because he didn't have family here ... we were his family," Stephens said.

Retired Rochester Deputy Police Chief Wayne Harris worked with Mr. Starver on different initiatives, including the Black Men Achieve awards, which honors the work and achievements of local African Americans.

"He was one of those 'give you the shirt off his back' kind of guys," Harris said.

An avid fisherman, Mr. Starver would take young people fishing and pass on life lessons along the banks of the Genesee, Harris and other friends said.

"I like to say this is my happy place," Mr. Starver said on a Facebook video of him fishing on the Genesee. "It's just so calm and serene. Even if I don't catch anything, just being here, on the river, enjoying the fresh air, the beautiful scenery, the wildlife, there's nothing better."

Mr. Starver's friend, William Schwappacher, posted the video Saturday as a remembrance of Mr. Starver, and the video quickly had close to 2,000 views.

Typically, Leigh said, Mr. Starver was a "catch-and-release" fisherman. But he recently posted on Facebook that he would bring fish to anyone who might need food during the pandemic.

"He was always thinking of someone else," she said.


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04/20/20 08:09 AM #1    

Ricardo Williams

Rest In Peace Donald. You were an inspiration to a lot of people. Your legacy will continue in others that you have touched over the years.

04/22/20 08:53 PM #2    

Leonard Kemp

Condolences to his family.  He made quite an impact on others.

04/23/20 07:51 AM #3    

Morton Stanfield (Former Staff)

Donald Starver's sister says she is sure her brother died from COVID-19.

The former Rochester deputy communications officer died in his city home on April 16, two days after his sister, Kelly Starver, last spoke to him. He was 56.

TheDemocrat and Chronicle earlier this week reported on Starver's death, and the belief from friends that he was suffering from COVID-19. His immediate family then could not be reached for the story.

On Tuesday, his sister, Kelly Starver, who lives in Pittsburgh, said she spoke many times with her brother in his final days and he told her how he had novel coronavirus symptoms, but he did not feel ill enough to seek treatment.

"I was talking to him daily, telling him to go to the hospital," she said in a telephone conversation Tuesday.

Kelly Starver said she offered to come to Rochester to help her 56-year-old brother, but he did not want her to leave Pittsburgh, where their mother lives.


"He said, 'Who will take care of mom?' " she said.

A runner and avid fisherman, Starver had no underlying medical conditions and had never undergone surgery, his sister said. She encouraged those who doubt the virus' potency, and question why some restrictions are necessary, to recognize how deadly COVID-19 can be.

"This is a monster and we need to be careful," she said. "I didn't want it to be my brother. I don't want it to be your brother."


After not reaching him by telephone, she contacted police on April 16. That day, she said, his landlord also grew concerned and found him dead in his home.

Starver's friend, Tamara Leigh, said this week that she thinks Starver likely thought he could work through the illness, and stayed home, trying to do so. 

"He wouldn't have wanted to put anyone at risk," she said. "He was healthy, and he was young, and he was active.

"It horrifies me to think he suffered through this at home, alone. ... To think of him being alone just devastates me."

Starver helped found Pillars of Hope, in which black and Hispanic men counsel city school students, and he was central to the local My Brother's Keeper initiative, carrying out the President Obama-created program which challenged community leaders to create a "cradle to college and career" strategy for its young people.

He was well-known throughout the Rochester community, and his friends plan an online tribute and memorial the evening of Tuesday, April 28. Specific information is expected to be released later this week.

Kelly Starver said she and other siblings are coming to Rochester this week to collect his personal items. They plan to have him cremated, and have a celebration of his life in August for his birthday.

"You have to be careful; this is killing people," she said of the novel coronavirus. "Don't let it happen to your loved ones."

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