MacDonald: A journalist and community treasure
We're proud to claim the late Bruce T. MacDonald as an alumnus of The Day, but at a memorial service in his honor this past week it was obvious his life's work transcended the noble role of a journalist.
Wednesday would have been MacDonald's 79th birthday, so it was fitting that about 150 people gathered under the pavilion at Ocean Beach on that brilliant summer afternoon to honor him.
He had endured cancer treatment over the past two years but was in remission and remained active. The treatments left him immuno-compromised and he developed pneumonia, according to his wife, Gail Braccidiferro MacDonald. He died on June 1.
One of the invaluable perks of this profession is the people we meet from every corner of the community. MacDonald collected contacts like a kid gathers candy on Halloween. In his life after journalism, he used his connections, along with the information gathering and writing skills he'd honed, to help others — kids who needed school supplies or a fun day trip, adults in need of a hot meal or shelter and an adopted city working to raise its profile.
MacDonald had worked two stints at The Day that totaled almost 10 years, starting in the late 1970s. He also worked at radio stations WERI in Westerly, WICH in Norwich and WDRC in Hartford, and at The Norwich Bulletin and USA Today. He and his wife, a professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut, met in 1981 when both worked for The Day.
His newsroom contemporaries on Wednesday spoke of MacDonald's constantly ringing phone and the patient conversations he had with everybody who called. They said he would go to great lengths to get a story, especially if it exposed a societal issue that needed attention. Radio personality Stu Bryer recalled that MacDonald, on their first day of working together, returned to the studio covered in blood after providing first aid to the victim of an accident he was covering. He once spotted a person who was about to jump off the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, pulled over and stayed with them until police arrived.
We never worked together at The Day. MacDonald was employed by the Mashantucket Pequots when I met him almost 20 years ago. He had, the journalists in the crowd joked Wednesday, gone over to "the dark side" of public relations, working as a spokesman for Foxwoods Resort Casino. MacDonald did his job well, pitching interesting stories and providing reporters with access to the inner workings of a then relatively new industry in the region.
Confronted with tough questions, he'd offer what he could, then divert a reporter with congenial chat about something unrelated. With me, it was horse talk. I loved hearing about the MacDonalds' daughter Cara's equestrian pursuits and enjoyed the doting father's good-natured groans about the cost of her hobby. Reporters walked away with at least some information and with positive feelings.
"He really understood the benefits of being as open and honest as you could be even in negative situations," Gail MacDonald said by phone Thursday.
MacDonald had only lived in New London since 2017, and upon moving here he quickly became a treasure to the city for his efforts to raise its profile.
MacDonald was a member of the Thames River Heritage Park Foundation and represented the city on the Eastern Connecticut Tourism Board. He also worked for the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor Michael Passero, who said MacDonald had helped with a tourism issue, on Wednesday presented Gail MacDonald with a proclamation on behalf of the city. State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, credited MacDonald, an active Democrat, with helping him get elected and brought a proclamation from the General Assembly.
MacDonald even made the marquee at The Garde Arts Center.
"A grateful community remembers Bruce MacDonald. A life well lived," it said Wednesday.
MacDonald was to be installed Thursday as president of the New London Rotary, though he'd only been a member since 2018. After their stints at The Day, the MacDonalds did good works out of state for several years, then moved to Pawcatuck, just across the river from his hometown of Westerly.
MacDonald worked quietly on behalf of the community, unless he was using his PR skills to promote a good cause. He championed the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, where he served as president for many years. He served on the boards of the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, Haitian Health Foundation and Haitian Ministries of the Norwich Diocese.
Cathy Zall, executive director of New London's Homeless Hospitality Center, stood up Wednesday to tell of his easy manner and compassion as a shelter volunteer. He also volunteered at the New London Community Meal Center.
MacDonald also was recognized by New London veterans Wednesday. He had enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school and served in Vicenza, Italy and Uijeongbu, South Korea.
My favorite memory of MacDonald is of struggling to keep up with him as he barreled on long legs through the labyrinthine back of the house at Foxwoods to deliver me to a scheduled interview. En route, everyone we passed would smile to see him.
My only regret is that I never got to hear his legendary Woody Woodpecker impression.
This is the opinion of Karen Florin, The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at (860) 701-4217 or email@example.com.