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Ski classic founder 'Buckwheat' Donahue dies

Robert Carlin 'Buckwheat' Donahue, founder of the Buckwheat International Ski Classic, has died.

The 'larger than life' organizer and former Skagway tourism director died following a heart attack

Robert Carlin 'Buckwheat' Donahue at Yukon's Buckwheat Ski Classic. (Submitted by Elyn Jones)

Robert Carlin 'Buckwheat' Donahue, founder of the Buckwheat International Ski Classic, has died following a heart attack.

Friend and fellow organizer Jeff Brady said Donahue was big-hearted and had an impact on everyone he came in contact with.

"Everybody I talk to, we just talk about how he was larger than life."

Donahue was a longtime resident of Skagway, Alaska and a contributor to CBC Yukon's morning show as their Skagway community correspondent. He also served as the executive director of the community's tourism bureau before his retirement a few years ago.

In the Yukon, Donahue is best known for his role in founding the Buckwheat Ski Classic and co-founding the Yukon River Quest.

Brady said Donahue was also involved in Skagway's North Words Writers Symposium and in 2006 walked, from Miami, Fla., to Johnson's Crossing, Y.T., then paddled the Yukon River to the Bering Sea, raising $70,000 US for Skagway's clinic in the process.

Many Yukoners may also remember the egg toss organized by Donahue in 2008. It broke a world record that still stands.   

'He was howling the moment he arrived'

Brady said his friend was quite the performer and could recite Robert Service poems like none other. He could also be recognized by his signature call. 

"A lot of people remember his howl, his very famous howl," Brady said. "He was howling from the moment he arrived here in the 80s."

Brady remembers that howling moment. Donahue was on the ferry travelling to Juneau, but drank too much and slept through his stop. Some of Brady's friends met Donahue on the ferry and convinced him to come to Skagway. Brady met him at the Red Onion Saloon, moments after he alighted. 

"We came up with a number of schemes since then," said Brady. 

Brady said Donahue left Alaska last year to seek more affordable health care. He died yesterday in Oklahoma City, his hometown.

Brady said Donahue's ashes will come home to Alaska. He expects there to be a lot of tributes during this year's Buckwheat Ski Classic, scheduled for Mar. 7, 2020. 

The Log Cabin Ski Society, which runs the event, shared the news of Donahue's death in a Facebook post Monday evening.

"Our dear friend and founder Buckwheat Donahue crossed over to the next bend this morning and is now at peace," the post reads. "He suffered another heart attack a few weeks ago."

"There was a concerted effort to keep him alive after he was brought back," it continues, "but in the end, after waiting to see if he would bounce back, he was sent on his way, per his wishes."

Donahue appeared on A New Day a little under a year ago to mark the 60th anniversary of CBC Yukon.

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