Milwaukie loses a community pillar in Bill McDonald
Bill McDonald, a pillar of the Milwaukie community for more than half a century, died Dec. 18 at the age of 93.
McDonald continued his tireless advocacy for local charity organizations throughout his life, even attending a board meeting for one group as lately as Dec. 12 during which he participated with his typical humor and intelligence.
With a string of adjectives often repeated by the many others who knew him, McDonald's daughter Christine Larson described him as a "brilliant, stoic, strict man with a loving heart; hardworking, honest and ethical, with a dash of impatience for ignorance."
McDonald was Milwaukie's self-described "small-town attorney" from 1959 until his retirement in late 2017. He fought cases for the North Clackamas School District in the early 1970s, eventually specializing in wills, real-estate transactions, probate and elder law. In a Clackamas Review article he fondly remembered one of his first cases in which he defended a man who tried to free a prisoner from the county jail and was quickly caught after walking by the sheriff's office with a shotgun.
Among his various quirks, McDonald would insist on knowing who "they" was if someone referred to "they" without defining exactly the person or people being discussed. He would entertain fellow volunteers by always wanting to second the minutes when board members took votes on the official notes of meetings.
McDonald joined the Providence Milwaukie Foundation Board in 1990 and continued to show up to the hospital charity's board meetings where he always seconded the vote on meeting minutes. Lesley Townsend, executive director of the foundation, says she was surprised to receive many gifts from people who never would have donated without his advocacy for the hospital's charity organization.
"His support was unwavering," Townsend said. "He was a champion for estate giving in this community, and his support will live on forever."
McDonald's served on the Providence board's finance committee, providing invaluable free legal advice on everything from IRAs to wills. He was also a big advocate for the Milwaukie Center and the Milwaukie Historical Society.
McDonald's remarkable life included escaping the Nazi bombings of England, where he was born Dec. 18, 1925. In 1940 he traveled across the Atlantic Ocean by boat with his sister; they took a train from New York to stay with a sponsor family in Milwaukie. He graduated from Milwaukie High School in 1942 and was drafted in 1944 by the U.S. Army, serving with the 7th Division in Okinawa and Korea.
While serving he met his future wife Christa Stelzmann, an East German who became an Army telephone operator after escaping persecution from the Nazis and Soviets. They enjoyed 45 years of marriage until her death in 1994.
McDonald is survived by his twin daughters and two grandsons, of whom he developed an especially close bond with his grandson William. Milwaukie City Councilor Wilda Parks has long been McDonald's "special friend." Townsend said she introduced Parks and McDonald at a fundraising dinner more than 10 years ago.
"I don't know if it was love at first sight, but right after that they were together," Townsend said. "There was no intention in setting them up or anything, but they ended up at the same table with me as I was frantically trying to figure out seating arrangements."
A service will be held 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 27, at Stehn Family Funeral Home, 2906 S.E. Harrison St., Milwaukie. Reception to follow immediately after the service at the Milwaukie Masonic Lodge, 10636 S.E. Main St.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggestions donations to any of these organizations: Providence Milwaukie Foundation, Milwaukie Historical Museum or the Milwaukie Center.