Family members are mourning Donald John Pijanowski, a lifelong sports fan who coached some of his sons in Little League and who never missed their games, died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He was 87.
Pijanowski, who was from Buffalo, New York, tested positive for the coronavirus when he went into the hospital on March 29. He died a few days later on April 1. His son said the family was not able to see their father in the last days of his life because doctors did not allow visits.
Pijanowski’s son John said his father loved sports and was a huge fan of the Bills, the Yankees, and the UConn women’s basketball team. He had four sons and loved to play baseball and basketball and go bowling.
“You know, growing up, I heard so many stories about him. I got to watch him sort of at the end of his playing days,” John said. “One of his friends I reached out to, he told me that there wasn't a ball or stick put in his hands that he wasn’t instantly great at.”
Despite being a huge Yankees fan, John said his father was never able to attend a game until 2008, when his kids surprised him with a trip to Yankee Stadium for Father’s Day the year after their mom died.
“He was so happy that day,” John said in a text message following a phone interview with BuzzFeed News. “A-Rod hit a homer, Jeter got a hit and made a jump throw from deep in the hole and Mo came on in the 9th. It was glorious.”
Pijanowski never missed his sons’ sports games growing up, which, John said, was amazing given how his father often had to travel for work.
“When I was playing he always found a way to get a plane or drive an all-nighter to get back and make sure he never missed one game,” he said. “He coached my brothers in Little League and all that, you name it. I mean he just gravitated towards it and just loved talking about hitting or second-guessing coaches.”
Pijanowski had to quit school early to help his family and worked many jobs growing up, but his career was working on industrial turbo compressors, his son said. The family moved to Texas at one point for Pijanowkski’s job, but he ultimately retired in Buffalo.
“He was a Buffalo guy who wanted to be back home,” John said.
John said he and his father talked about the coronavirus before his father’s death last week.
“We talked about, you know, how serious it was. We talked about how we wish that other people who weren't taking it seriously would get their act together and start taking it seriously,” John said. “He's a sports guy, right? So we talked about how, you know, when it comes to something like this, it's important to follow the money … [and] when billionaire sports owners walk away from a billion-dollar industry because they think this is too dangerous, then everybody should know that it's really, really dangerous.”
John shared a series of tweets last week about his father that went viral.
“Instead of gathering around him and each other we are mourning via texts and video and putting our faith in the brave nurses and doctors caring for him that he was not alone,” he wrote. “As the youngest of ten children born during the Great Depression the stories of his childhood always seemed harsh, but he never told them that way. Stories of his youth were always told with a warm sense of nostalgia and a twinkle in his eye.”
When he was younger, John said on Twitter, his father would often point out a house he’d painted years before and talked about how his supervisor told him only to paint the parts people could see from the street.
“‘I could never do that’ he would say every time,” John tweeted. “My dad was a great man because he left the world a better place for having been in it. He was an infinitely kind man with a sharp sense of humor who worked hard, played hard, and loved deeply. I will miss him every day of my life and be grateful I had the privilege to be his son.”