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John McDonald

John McDonald

U.S. ambassador | Died in May 2019 | Class of 1946

Long before he headed up the U.S. delegation that negotiated a U.N. treaty against the taking of hostages, Ambassador John McDonald moved to Champaign-Urbana for his father’s new job — ROTC professor of military science.

The year was 1939. The campus looked a wee bit different than it does now.

“How big was my surprise — and disappointment — to discover that the university had no dormitories,” McDonald, then 93, told us two years prior to his 2019 passing. “It meant living at home until joining Delta Pi of Delta Kappa Epsilon, the fraternity to which I still belong.”

That’s where he was on Dec. 7, 1941, the day everything changed. “I was a sophomore — sitting with my friends in the living room of our fraternity. The voice of a radio announcer reported that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. We froze in horror and disbelief.

“Within days, one-third of the fraternity left the university and joined the military.”

Five years later came the other lasting memory of his time in C-U: graduation day from the UI College of Law.

“The thing I remember vividly about my class picture is that we were all standing on the steps of the venerable Altgeld Hall, so named in 1941,” he says, “and I believe that only one member of the class was a woman.”

McDonald spent three decades working for the State Department, with assignments taking him to Berlin, Cairo, Frankfurt, Paris, Tehran and other global hot spots.