(Iowa City Press-Citizen "Our View," July 15, 2009)
"At one time, most of my brothers and sisters worked in the business. ... There is a certain element of trust when you have family members working with you."
That's what John McDonald said back in 2006 when McDonald Optical, the business begun by his father and then overseen by him and some of his siblings, celebrated its 50th anniversary. And ever since the Iowa City businessman died at home July 8, friends and colleagues have been explaining just how far John McDonald extended his family's sense of "trust" throughout the community.
Thomas Scott, who managed McDonald's council campaigns in the 1980s, said McDonald's legacy will be his amazing ability to bring together people.
"In his 12 years on the council," Scott said, "he served with a number of different individuals with very different personalities. I think, without exception, regardless of the differences of opinions or the differences in political philosophy, they all would tell you that he was a superb leader."
Novelist Larry Baker, who said he lost to McDonald in a 1981 election but who eventually served on the council from 1984-87 and 1994-97, said McDonald's success came through all the hard work he did outside the council meetings.
"John had a retail personality," Baker said. "Retail is one-to-one. He always made you feel that he was talking to you. Listening to you. And not just to a constituent or to a voter or to a council member, but to Larry Baker."
Karen Kubby, who served on the Iowa City Council from 1989-1999 and who often voted differently than McDonald did, said McDonald was the perfect person to be mayor at the time because he had everyone's respect and thus could lead the city effectively.
"He instilled a sense of trust in the people he served," Kubby said. "There isn't that sense of trust in local government right now. Certainly times are different, but I think there was something in his way that helped instill trust. Something we could all learn from. It was real -- very genuine."
We hope our city leaders will learn from McDonald's example. And we also hope the Iowa City area will learn an additional lesson from the McDonald family's sense of trust: How to keep members of the next generations connected to this community. Many of John McDonald's siblings, children, nieces and nephews continue to work with the family business and, along with his parents, help make Iowa City seem a little more like a family. We're glad they are on hand to comfort one another and their friends during this time of loss.
"He was just a good, good person," Scott said. "And he was a damn good friend."