Thomas Michael McDonald         Mini Bio


Thomas Michael McDonald

Grandson of the Irish immigrant, Andrew McDonald, Thomas was actually christened with the name of Michael Thomas McDonald, but to avoid the confusion with sharing the same first name as his father, Michael, he was called “Tom” and somehow that migrated over to become his first name.

Tom was born on the 28th of Sept. 1883 on Stag Creek, in Low Township of Gatineau County, Quebec.  He was the third son in a family of nine children, although two of the babies died in infancy.  All of the boys were tall and husky but Tom was the biggest of the family.  He stood 6’ 2.5” and was powerfully built.  His son, Don related that Tom was the largest man he knew and he commanded the respect of everyone who knew him.  But he was a kind and gentle man, not interested in intimidating anyone.

Tom grew to manhood in the backwoods of Quebec where there was no education beyond the first few elementary grades.  He wanted to make something of himself so he sent away for a correspondence course on how to become an engineer.  He completed the course although it was rarely recognized by any prospective employers.  Still, once Tom began to work, it was obvious that he had the natural instincts for engineering and he was sought out for his abilities on many construction sites.

As a young man, he left his father’s, and grandfather’s farms, and headed west to Montana where the country was still young and needed to be tamed.  There he worked on a number of projects building dams and bringing irrigation ditches to the farmland around Flathead Lake.

He was 35 years old when he courted and married Pearl Belle Fitzpatrick who lived with her widowed father and her brothers near Ronan, Mt.  Pearl was 27 years old at the time and she traveled to her Aunt’s home in Seattle to prepare for her wedding.  Tom followed her there and they were married in Seattle on April 11th, 1918.

After the wedding, Tom took his new bride back to the Flathead Valley.  His worked caused them to move around from camp to camp every couple of years as one job was completed and the next one started.  At times they lived in a tent city, made for temporary housing for the work crews.  Even in bitterly cold, sub-zero weather, these tents could be kept warm by use of a wood stove.

The couple had three children: James “Jim“ William (14 July 1919), Donald Thomas (29 June 1923) and Elizabeth “Betty” Ellen (15 Feb. 1925).  There was a five-year gap between the two boys but less than two years between Don and his little sister.  These two were great playmates until little Betty died at age 4 (probably due to Leukemia).  This was a great blow to Don who was only six years old at the time and struggling to understand what happened to his little sister.  The death of this child was also a great blow to Tom and Pearl and neither one of them ever totally recovered from the loss.  They were just not prepared for it and a lot of the joy went out of their lives as a result. 

This feeling was further complicated about six years later when their oldest boy, Jim, who was an outstanding student and athlete, also died from appendicitis before his 17th birthday.  This left Don as their only living child.  As he watched their sadness it caused him to internalize that feeling and to wonder why he couldn’t help to make them happier.

Raised as a proud Irish Catholic, Tom was always deeply religious, but over the years he became a bit cynical of some of the things he saw in his own church, including the clergy.  He continued to attend faithfully but felt a greater religious feeling in the depths of his own heart, rather than in the ritual of the church.

Tom retired from work at the end of World War II and settled on a small place in Redlands, Cal.  Here he built a complete home out of bits and pieces of left over lumber he was able to find on construction sites, etc. 

At the age of 79 he was diagnosed with cancer.  When it was apparent that nothing more could be done for him, Pearl brought him north to Portland to spend his last weeks in the home of their son, Don.  Here, with his family gather around him, Tom shared with them one of his deepest feelings.  He said that he had always felt that there was a purpose to this life—there was something we came here to find and there was something each of us was to accomplish in this life.  He told them he had looked for this all his life and his only regret was that he had never found it. 

Tom passed away on June 2nd, 1963 at his son’s home.  He was buried in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.