HAMPTON, NH (NEWS CENTER) - When Jimmy Donahue was growing up in the 1950s, he thought that lifeguards had about the best job in the world.
As a toddler, then as a boy, then as a teenager, Donahue spent summers in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, where tens of thousands of people would jam the beach for the sun and surf, always under the watchful eye of the lifeguards. Donahue went from admiring the lifeguards to hanging out with them to working out with them. “So by the time I turned sixteen,” he says, they wanted to hire me because I could swim pretty well.”
In 1960, the last summer of the Eisenhower administration, Donahue went to work as a lifeguard on Hampton Beach. He’s still there, not in a chair on the sand but in an office with a commanding view of the beach, in charge of a team of about 45 lifeguards during the peak summer season. It’s been more than a great job, he says. It’s been a great life. “I can’t think of anything better to do in the summertime.”
The most gratifying part of the work, not surprisingly, has been rescuing swimmers in trouble. How many people did he rescue over the years? He has no idea. Clearly it would be in the hundreds. “There’s no better feeling than to realize at the end of the day you likely were responsible for saving a person’s life.”
Donahue is now 73 years old and already thinking about coming back to Hampton Beach next summer—his 59th as a lifeguard. He never wants to leave the beach. “No, no,” he says. “It keeps you young.”