High praise for a “low-key kind of guy”

October 6, 2013
James “Cookie” McDonald looks over a program for a roast in his honor at the LeMoyne Community Center Sunday afternoon, with his daughter, Traci McDonald-Kemp and granddaughter, Ariana Kemp. - Brad Hundt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A man described as a “low-key kind of guy” who “gets things done” was the subject of high praise at the LeMoyne Community Center Sunday afternoon.

James “Cookie” McDonald, a longtime contributor to the Washington community and a successful businessman, was the subject of the center’s second annual community roast, with friends and associates tipping the hat to the 77-year-old, who, in the words of Washington Mayor Brenda Davis “has always helped those who have been less fortunate.”

A lifelong resident of the city, McDonald became a member of the board of the Washington School District after the schools were integrated and was also a member of the county housing authority’s board.

McDonald was also able to closely observe some of the key figures and events in the Civil Rights Movement. He accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. on a visit to Pittsburgh business leaders in the 1960s, traveled to Mississippi to meet with the widow of slain activist Medgar Evers and went to Los Angeles in 1965, and Buffalo, N.Y. in 1967, after riots shook those cities.

Today, McDonald is the chairman and CEO of Monaloh Basin Engineers, the company he founded, in Robinson Township, Allegheny County.

Testimonials were offered by an assortment of friends and family members, among them Traci McDonald-Kemp, McDonald’s daughter and a deputy district attorney in Washington County.

“He is making a difference,” said Peter Magnotta, one of McDonald’s friends. “He’s a low-key kind of guy, but he cares about the community and the people in it.”

At the conclusion of the roast, McDonald noted the robust turnout on an unusually warm autumn afternoon and remarked, “People came out. That’s what I love about this city.”

Aside from Davis, an assortment of other Washington County political figures attended the event, including commissioners Larry Maggi, Diana Irey Vaughan and Harlan Shober, District Attorney Gene Vittone and judicial candidates Mike Lucas and Valarie Costanzo.

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from George State University in Atlanta, Ga., and a master’s in popular culture studies from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He has covered the arts and entertainment for the O-R, and also worked as a municipal beat reporter. He now serves as editorial page editor.

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