BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ John J. ``Jackie'' Donovan, a boxing great in the 1930s and early 1940s, died Sunday at the age of 78. He had been ill for many years.

Donovan, of Buffalo, was New York state welterweight champion the year after he turned professional in 1938. As a pro, he won 21 of 28 fights and defeated the likes of Andre Jesserun, ``Irish Eddie'' Dolan, Ralph Gizzy, Jerry Fiorello and Canadian champion Tommy Bland in Madison Square Garden.

His first amateur match in 1935 pitted him against Paul Columbo, who had been Buffalo's Golden Gloves flyweight champion for five years. The quick-footed Donovan, who was nicknamed ``The Irish Imp'' by local sportscasters, defeated Columbo and became Niagara District AAU champion at the age of 16.

As an amateur, he won 45 of his 47 AAU and Golden Glove bouts and held 34 Golden Glove championships.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Donovan grew angry with what he saw as mismanagement in professional boxing and retired. He became a postal clerk and, later, a cartoonist.

``His retirement was a real loss to boxing,'' said Ed Cudney, curator of the Buffalo Boxing Museum and a friend of Donovan's for seven decades. ``He would have been world champ if he hadn't gotten out of the ring. No doubt about it.''