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Obituary: Lee Cameron McDonald – Le COURRIER de Claremont


Distinguished and Award-Winning Professor of Pomona College, US Army Veteran, Great-Grandfather

Lee Cameron McDonald, a resident of Claremont since the late 1940s, died on December 29 of natural causes brought on by old age. His children and grandchildren were with him in his last days. He would have been 97 in February.

Lee McDonald was Professor of Government and Political Theory at Pomona College from 1952 to 1990. He was Dean of Pomona College from 1970 to 1975 and taught graduate seminars at Claremont Graduate School, now Claremont Graduate University , until 2000. He and his wife Claire, who just celebrated his 95th birthday on December 28, raised five children in Claremont. They celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in August 2021.

Lee was born in Salem, Oregon on February 25, 1925. He was the only child of Lyman McDonald, a rural mailman for the United States Postal Service, and Mabel Duncan McDonald, a schoolteacher. He grew up during the Depression, but both of his parents worked hard and he had a stable education. He started playing music at an early age and learned to play the trombone, baritone horn and trumpet.

As a college student, he was asked to join the high school orchestra because they needed a trumpeter. He said the schools were close to each other, so he would go to high school from junior high and ended up playing in the high school band for six years instead of the usual four. He also loved to sing and found every opportunity to sing throughout his life.

He enlisted in the United States Army in his freshman year at the University of Oregon when he was 18. The year was 1943. He left school in the middle of the year and went to the service at Fort. Lewis in Washington State. From there he applied to the Army Air Corps and spent the remainder of the war training as a fighter pilot. It was while stationed at Santa Ana Air Force Base that he visited a friend from Salem High School at Pomona College. There he meets Claire Kingman. She was 17 and he was only 19. They befriended and wrote to each other throughout the war. They married in August 1946. He joined Claire in Pomona and graduated from Pomona College in 1948.

From there, using the GI Bill, he earned a Masters in Political Science from UCLA and then a PhD. from Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Reinhold Neibuhr, an American theologian who commented on public affairs and politics. The study of Neibuhr’s ideas combined his interests in religion and politics. After graduating from Harvard in 1952, he was offered a position at Pomona College to teach government. The couple were both delighted to be returning to Claremont. They moved with their two young daughters and started living in Claremont, eventually raising five children in town.

Mr. McDonald has won the Pomona College Wig Distinguished Professor Award twice, in 1968 and 1989. The Wig Award is the highest honor bestowed on the faculty of Pomona and recognizes exceptional teaching, concern for students and service rendered. in college and in the community.

After his retirement, he and Ms. McDonald both won the Pomona College Alumni Service Award (2009) in recognition of their commitment and continued volunteer service to the school.

“To say that Lee loved Pomona College and to teach is an understatement,” his family explained. “He once wrote that he learned from his high school orchestra teacher that being a good teacher meant being supportive and positive with students. Her orchestra teacher was often angry with the students for not playing well. He said he swore at that time to be a kind and supportive teacher. That’s what he managed to do.

His students have written to him for years: “He invited me to attend his seminar and often spoke to me about political theory,” wrote one of them. “He was one of the main reasons I went to the field. He was so caring, listened so carefully, and was so kind. I’ll never forget it. ”Another student wrote,“ Taking a class with Lee McDonald taught me to think. ”Other students thanked him years later for helping them get an internship or another special opportunity or for writing a wonderful letter of recommendation.

He liked to struggle with complex ideas. He wrote a textbook, Western Political Theory, the first part of which he published in 1962, followed later by a comprehensive text covering political philosophers from ancient to modern in 1968. His textbook was popular and used for many years. years in colleges. In his older years he had three small statuettes of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. He often remarked that in addition to looking at the photos of his wife, children and grandchildren that surrounded his desk, he liked to look and think about his “three Greek philosophers”.

He has also published numerous articles over the years in academic journals. His subjects included myth, religion, politics, private ethics, and civic virtue. He and Claire spent a year in Greece in the early 1980s on sabbatical leave where he deepened his understanding of these “three Greek philosophers”.

During his years as Dean of Pomona College, he enjoyed working closely with President David Alexander and other administrators. But he always said that being a director meant ‘saying no’, and he found it hard to say no. After five years he returned to teaching, which he has always loved.

After retiring from Pomona, the couple traveled a lot. They have taken their large extended family to Hawaii three times, where they all had a lot of fun. They also traveled with each of their children and families to places like New Zealand, England, Italy and France.

The McDonalds were founding members of the Claremont Presbyterian Church in the mid-1950s. He attended church sessions several times and sang in the church choir for many years. In 2003, the couple moved to the elder care community of Mt. San Antonio Gardens. They enjoyed living there, spending time with new and old friends; and in recent years has received excellent care and support.

“Lee was a wonderful father and grandfather,” his family wrote. Perhaps because he was an only child, he always seemed to enjoy spending time with his children. He told his children and grandchildren wonderful and imaginative stories at bedtime for years. He played. basketball and wrestling with his children, he pushed us to articulate our ideas at the table.

He was a staunch member of the Democratic Party, working for civil rights in the 1960s and gay rights in the 1990s. Although a veteran of the military and reached the rank of deputy lieutenant, he is not in favor of subsequent wars. He worked for peace. He cared deeply for the environment and the future of the planet, even though he knew he would not live long enough to see climate change fully take hold. He taught his children that what happened in politics really mattered. He also knew that having a good sense of humor was essential in life and that laughing was part of what makes life worth living.

“He suffered the loss of three children in his long life,” his family explained. “But, through it all, he never lost his ability to be kind, funny and extremely loving to those around him,” his family said. “Until his last days, he remained devoted to his wife Claire and found his greatest joy in singing the standards of the 40s and 50s with her by his side.”

He is survived by his wife Claire; her daughter Mary and her son-in-law Jack; her daughter Alison and her stepdaughter Sandy; son Paul and daughter-in-law Susan; five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

His daughter Devon died in 1957; her daughter Julie died in 1996 and her son Tom in 2010.

A memorial service, to be held at the Presbyterian Church in Claremont, will be announced at a later date, when it is safer for everyone to come together and all family members can attend.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to two organizations that were important to him: the Natural Resources Defense Council at www.nrdc.org or the Pomona College at https://community.pomona.edu/give_today.

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