To those who knew and worked with Donald C. Minor—known as “Chief” to many because of his 31 years as an Air Force chief master sergeant—the Spotsylvania County man was an icon.
That’s how Mason Crabtree, a 28-year-old who managed the marina at Motts Run Reservoir Recreation Area with Minor, described his mentor. Crabtree was 13 when he met the man who would become a grandfather figure to him as Minor showed the teenager “the value of work, the value of money and the value of respect.”
“From a young age, he helped raise me and put me in the right direction,” Crabtree said. “Every time I screwed up, he wasn’t afraid to jump down my throat, and every time I did good, he was there to pat me on the back.”
Along with others at Motts Run and throughout the Fredericksburg area, Crabtree is mourning the death of Minor, who died from COVID-19 on Father’s Day.
Minor was one of five Spotsylvania residents whose virus-related deaths were reported Tuesday in what represents the biggest daily death toll to date. Three of the five people who died were residents at Carriage Hill Health & Rehab Center, where an outbreak continues to claim lives. Thirteen elderly people have died, and another 93 residents and staff members are infected.
All five people whose deaths were reported Tuesday by the Rappahannock Area Health District were 70 or older. While Minor, who was 83, fit the age profile of those hardest hit by COVID, he didn’t have other characteristics, such as underlying health problems, besides needing to wear a back brace. Friends and family members said he embodied good health and an active lifestyle.
“At his age, he could still outlift me; he could still outpace me,” Crabtree said. “He could take four 80-pound batteries and walk them in a line quicker than I could at age 25. If I ever beat him, he’d be mad at himself because he wasn’t as strong as he used to be.”
Minor joined the Fredericksburg Parks, Recreation and Events department in 1997 after retiring from the military. He had risen through the ranks to chief master sergeant, the highest enlisted level of leadership in the Air Force.
Managing the boathouse at Motts Run was going to be his “cushy little part-time job,” wrote Wendy Stone, the parks department’s assistant director, in a tribute she sent to city staff on Monday.
“He quickly became the face and name of Motts, which was often referred to as ‘Mr. Minor’s lake,’ ” she wrote.
Fellow staff members heard he had become sickened by the virus and hospitalized, “but he was such a rock-solid guy, you thought something like COVID could never get him,” said Jane Shelhorse, department director. “Even when he went on life support, we thought he was going to be the one to come out of it.”
So did his family.
Minor’s sister, Ruth, a retired nurse and Army officer, had served as the Minors’ contact with the hospital. She called his son, Mike, about 6:30 p.m. Sunday to say the patient was doing better; and Mike Minor thought it was going to be a good Father’s Day after all.
“Ten minutes later, she called me, and she was all to pieces, saying he’s gone, he’s gone,” he said.
Don Minor had pulled out his own air tube the day before—then gave a nurse the thumbs-up and went back to watching “Fiddler on the Roof” on TV. He went about 24 hours, breathing on his own, before he died.
No family members had seen him from the time he entered the hospital more than three weeks earlier, because visitors aren’t allowed in intensive care. Don Minor didn’t talk to relatives through Facetime or any other platform because they believe he didn’t want anyone to see him in that condition.
“His body had been through so much; maybe he’d had enough,” Mike Minor said, adding that before he got sick, his father never deviated from his daily routine of ham, three scrambled eggs, toast and doing the crossword puzzle. “The dude was healthy. I’m convinced, he would have been around for another decade, if not for COVID.”
Don Minor’s wife, Toni, who’s on dialysis, and their son, J.D., who was visiting from England, all tested positive for the virus. Toni and J.D. are recovering at the family home near Wilderness.
In the wake of his death, friends and family remember the lessons Don Minor instilled. He and his wife had bought savings bonds for college for their four sons and two daughters, but the boys were inspired by their father’s example to serve in the military.
The oldest son, Don Jr., joined the Marine Corps with his friends. J.D. and Mike went into the Air Force like their father, and Rex joined the Navy.
“Our household was military, through and through,” Mike Minor said, recalling the way his father taught them all to make their bed with tight hospital corners.
Their dad also rewrote owner’s manuals for any outdoor equipment the family used in his own “OI,” or operating instructions. He stressed that his children understand how to use and maintain equipment—and that they be responsible for it, as they were for all their actions.
He worked to pass those same traits along to Crabtree and other “boat boys” who came to Motts Run for their first jobs. Shelhorse’s son was among them; he’s 32 now, and he and his mother discussed, after Minor’s death, how patient Minor was with teenagers as he talked about “how to be a man and taking responsibility for yourself and who you are.”
Minor also enjoyed bringing the sport of fishing to thousands of children who participated in the park’s Kid’s Fishing Derby, Stone said. “Because he knew a million people,” she said he raised money for the event and collected prizes for the children.
“I think everyone realized how important that event was for him,” said Ken Perrotte, outdoors columnist for The Free Lance–Star. “He saw how wonderful it was not only for the youngsters but also for their families.”
Stone said she’ll miss the man who became the face and name, heart and soul of Motts Run.
“I am heartbroken at the loss of such a truly good man,” Stone said.