Thomas Donovan wasn't gregarious. He didn't speak loudly or without purpose. Instead, he chose his words carefully, thoughtfully. Above all, his family said, he was caring and selfless.

"His focus always was on people other than himself," said his son James Donovan of Manhattan.

Donovan, a lawyer and a general manager at the World Trade Center, died in his sleep at Sands Point Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Port Washington on Jan. 20. The longtime Garden City resident was 87.

Donovan was born in Brooklyn and attended St. Patrick School and Cathedral Preparatory Seminary. He had begun taking classes at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., when World War II called. Donovan served with the U.S. Merchant Marine as a radio operator, mostly in the South Pacific, said James Donovan.

When he returned, Donovan resumed college and went on to attend Fordham University Law School. In 1949, he married Caryl Lewin and soon began working for the Port Authority. The couple moved to Carle Place in 1952 and to Garden City in 1957. To support his family, Donovan worked during the day and finished law school at night, his son said. He was admitted to the state bar in 1955.

Starting as an assistant with the Port Authority, Donovan worked his way up, from first managing bridges and tunnels and Kennedy Airport (then called Idlewild) to becoming the general manager of rentals and development for the World Trade Center. Donovan was responsible for acquiring tenants and negotiating leases for the millions of square feet of the Twin Towers.

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He retired in the mid-1980s, his son said, and began to focus on service to his church, St. Joseph in Garden City. Donovan attended Mass daily and was a constant presence in church outreach programs, his son said. He served on the board of Catholic Charities from 1984 to 2000.

"Faith was one of his strongest values," his son said. "He gave of himself quite extensively."

In retirement, Donovan pursued two of his passions: reading and travel. When he wasn't devouring history and political books, Donovan would spend time in western Europe, Asia and Australia, his son said.

Donovan loved spending time with his children and grandchildren. He enjoyed posing provocative and probing questions to his kin, offering up a debate.

"He would lead them through the thought process," his son said. "He was very effective at trying to teach his children and grandchildren how to think thoroughly about an issue before responding to a question."

Burial was in St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale. In addition to his son James, he is survived by his wife, Caryl of Garden City; daughters Elizabeth Foster of Merrick, Maureen Reddy of Bayport and Diane Donovan of Norwalk, Conn.; sons Thomas of Hackettstown, N.J., David of Ellicott City, Md., and Richard of Lake Forest, Calif.; and 13 grandchildren.