Thursday, April 1, 2010
Longtime District Attorney Aide Tom McDonald Dies
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Tom McDonald, a onetime journalist who became an aide to five Los Angeles district attorneys and two California attorneys general, has died at age 74.
McDonald, a longtime Hollywood Hills resident, passed away Tuesday after a long illness, District Attorney Steve Cooley said in an interoffice memo.
Cooley noted that McDonald had joined the office in 1971 as a special assistant/chief field deputy to then-District Attorney Joe Busch and retired in 2007 after serving as a special assistant to Cooley for seven years.
After attending Loyola University, where he was editor of the school newspaper and student body president, he attended Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service on scholarship. He returned to Los Angeles, where he worked for the New York Times, one of his assignments being coverage of the 1960 Democratic National Convention, which nominated John F. Kennedy for president.
He left the Times to become special assistant and press secretary to Stanley Mosk, then the attorney general of California, and stayed on under the new attorney general, Thomas Lynch, after Mosk’s 1964 appointment to the state Supreme Court. McDonald testified before congressional committees and planned legislative strategy, acted as liaison with the Los Angeles Police Department during the 1965 Watts riot, and authored a 1965 report on armed right-wing extremist groups, Cooley said.
He left the office following the 1970 election of Evelle Younger and went to work for Busch, handling media relations and later heading the Bureau of Community Affairs, a role he continued after Busch died and John Van de Kamp was named to succeed him.
Van de Kamp told the MetNews yesterday that McDonald was valued as a speechwriter and adviser with “very good political judgment and a great sense of humor.” Members of the press and public with whom he dealt “knew him and liked him,” Van de Kamp said.
McDonald also worked with the district attorney’s community representatives and the Board of Supervisors and organized trips around the county for him and his top aides, Van de Kamp recalled.
Los Angeles County Counsel Andrea Ordin, who worked with McDonald in both the Attorney General’s and District Attorney’s offices, called him a “sheer joy” and “one of the most imaginative writers and thinkers.”
She explained that under Lynch, the Attorney General’s Office was extremely active in areas like civil rights and organized crime, and McDonald was instrumental in explaining the office’s actions to the press and public.
In later years, McDonald, along with his wife Sheila, who survives him, researched the history of the District Attorney’s Office. He is credited with supplying much of the information that appeared in Michael Parrish’s 2001 history of the office, “For the People,” and worked on the historic photomurals on the 17th and 18th floors of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.
Plans for a memorial service are pending, Cooley said.
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