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Forrest Fraser MacDonald

Aerospace engineer, WWII veteran, world traveler

Forrest Fraser MacDonald, a 13-year resident of Claremont and father of former mayor Karen Rosenthal, died November 14, 2013 after a brief illness. He was 98.

Mr. MacDonald was born on January 26, 1915 in Glace Bay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to Edward MacDonald and Bessie Graham MacDonald. His maternal grandparents and paternal great-grandparents had immigrated to Nova Scotia from the South Uist and Kintail areas of Scotland.

The family moved to Boston in 1925. Mr. MacDonald graduated from Northeastern University in 1936 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He worked for Stone and Webster as a structural steel designer, then for United Fruit Company as a structural designer. In 1938, he was sent to Parrita, Costa Rica by United Fruit Co. for two years to build banana farms, schools and housing. Mr. MacDonald also helped design a United Fruit Co. pier in Havana, Cuba.

He was drafted into the US Army in February 1941 and sent to Officer Candidate School, Corps of Engineers, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. He was stationed at various army facilities including Ft. Knox, Pine Camp, New York and Ft. Ord and Ft. San Luis Obispo in California.

Mr. MacDonald met Helen Christina Anderson of Boston in 1937 on a blind date just three weeks before she left for Tokyo, Japan for two years as a teacher. They maintained a correspondence despite being apart for more than three years. They were reunited in Boston and were married on September 5, 1942, three days after Mr. MacDonald was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was sent to Okinawa with the 1344th Combat Engineers Battalion in 1945, returning in early 1946. He was discharged from the army in 1946 with the rank of Captain.

The MacDonalds lived in North Abington, Massachusetts and Mr. MacDonald rejoined United Fruit Co. He saw an ad in the Boston Globe recruiting engineers for the burgeoning aerospace industry in southern California. He headed west in 1952 with Mrs. MacDonald and their young family in tow (Karen, 8, Lauren, 6, and Cameron, 2). Daughter Karen remembers that all the family vacations involved water. Mrs. MacDonald needed a place to swim and Mr. MacDonald needed a place to fish and/or sail. The children became accomplished at all three activities.

They settled in El Segundo, and Mr. MacDonald began his career at North American Aviation (later Rockwell International, now part of Boeing) as a senior designer in the engineering department with work on Air Force aircraft. He retired in 1975 as project engineer and program manager, having worked on the X-15 project among others. (Mr. MacDonald recently participated in the oral history portion of The Aerospace History Project, a collaboration between USC and the Huntington Library. They are collecting the papers and oral histories of individuals and institutions to create a central resource of photos, documents and recollections of that significant era of southern California history.)

After retirement, the MacDonalds renewed their great interest in travel. They traveled to Scotland and Sweden several times and visited Southeast Asia, Japan and the USSR. The MacDonalds moved to Claremont in 2000, and Mr. MacDonald moved into The Claremont Manor two years after his wife’s death in 2008. They were members of Claremont United Methodist Church.

Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald started attending Scottish Highland Games in the 1970s and became very involved in all things Scottish, eventually becoming members of Clan Donald, Clan Donnachaidh, Clan Graham, Clan Fraser, United Scottish Society and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society.  Dancing, and especially Scottish country dancing, was a very large part of the MacDonalds’ life together. Their daughter Lauren says that one of the things that impressed Helen when she first met Forrest was that he was a “great dancer.” Mr. MacDonald was also involved in the Clan Donald Trust and was a life member of the St. Andrew’s Society. He was a director of the Clan Donald Foundation, and elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (FSA Scot). These connections prompted a great interest in genealogy, which Mr. MacDonald pursued with a passion, finding family links all the way back to 900 in Scotland.

Mr. MacDonald was the consummate woodworker, forever in his workshop fashioning wine racks, coat-racks and napkin holders, among other functional pieces. He loved solving design problems with his innovative solutions (a la Rube Goldberg). He even drew an intricate and thoroughly enchanting design of a better mousetrap. Mr. MacDonald lost two fingers in a table saw accident in the 1950s during one of his projects, and an imprint of said hand is immortalized in the John Fisher Sculpture at Shelton Park in Claremont. He also enjoyed gardening and produced bumper crops of corn, tomatoes and cucumbers every summer for more than 65 years. 

Mr. MacDonald is survived by daughters Karen Rosenthal (husband Michael) of Claremont and Lauren Cassatt of Snowmass Village, Colorado; by his grandchildren Alix Rosenthal and Ariel Rosenthal Parrish (husband David) of San Francisco, Alexander Cassatt of Seattle, Washington and Hayley Cassatt of Portland, Oregon, and by his great-grandson Elliott Parrish. He also leaves foster son Wolde Meskel Mahetem (wife Yeshi) and family of Fresno, and three nieces and a nephew.

Mr. MacDonald was preceded in death by his wife Helen, by his son Cameron in 1995 and by his son-in-law Chris Cassatt in 2013.

A memorial celebration will be held at Claremont United Methodist Church at 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 26, 2014, Mr. MacDonald’s 99th birthday. Contact Karen MacDonald Rosenthal at karen.kmr@verizon.net or Lauren MacDonald Cassatt at lcassatt@mac.com for information.

Donations in Forrest MacDonald’s memory may be made to The Clan Donald Foundation, PO Box 13138, Charleston, SC 29412, or Claremont United Methodist Church, 211 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont, CA 91711.

Please see: http://forrestmacdonald.blogspot.com.

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