James “Jim” McDonald passed away at his home on July 6, 2021 at the age of 70. While medical professionals will say his passing resulted from a valiant nine-year battle with Stage IV Thymoma, those closest to Jim believe it’s more likely that he passed away on purpose, to avoid having to yell at another “lying creature from the swamp” on the news.
Jim’s coveted remote control has not been seen since his passing, which can only mean that in true Jim-fashion, he took it with him to stake his permanent claim over the TV (and according to his wife, drive her crazy in perpetuity).
Jim was born to Beverly and Robert McDonald in Marseilles, Illinois on May 27, 1951. It was from these two wonderful humans that Jim acquired his work ethic and family values, as well as his hatred for peas (an aversion he would later escalate to include all vegetables and anything green). And it was from his two not-as-wonderful younger siblings and their Purple Cup brawls, that he acquired his patience, strength, and quick wit.
Jim also learned perseverance through hardship early in life, after losing his father as a teen. He would embody these traits throughout his life, but especially as he faced countless physical obstacles in recent years.
While he appreciated his small-town upbringing, Jim also had an affinity for travel and an aversion to humidity, and often shared that his fondest memory of Marseilles was “getting out.”
Following his graduation from Marseilles High School in 1969, Jim attended IVCC Junior College where he majored in “playing too much cards.” His dedication to these studies caused him to lose student deferment and become eligible for the draft. Hoping to avoid being drafted to Vietnam Jim enlisted in the Navy, where Uncle Sam taught him his first lesson in trusting the Government…by sending him to Vietnam.
After receiving aviation electronics and surveillance education, Jim served as a Flight Status Operator flying reconnaissance out of DeNang, Vietnam in the Reconnaissance Squadron VQ-1 Det Bravo. During his time in the service Jim flew over 100 combat missions over Vietnam and Laos, earning countless honors including the National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Air Medals, 4th Strike/Flight Air Medal, and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Looking back, his fondest service memories involved antics and adventures with his fellow airmen, a group of “swabbies” with whom he enjoyed R&R trips to Bangkok and debauchery at the “Bora Bora Room” in his youth, and with whom he continued to enjoy weekend meet-ups around the country throughout his adult life.
After his Honorable Discharge in 1974, Jim studied electrical engineering at the University of Illinois. In his senior year of college, Jim accepted an engineering apprenticeship in Joliet, Illinois through the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), and soon after worked as a field engineer constructing the LaSalle Nuclear Generating Station.
Later in life, Jim continued to serve NECA in many capacities, including as a master electrician, President, and Governor in the Montana Chapter Board of Directors, and through national positions as a District Vice President and executive committee member for the Board of Governors.
Jim met the love of his life, Renee in February 1981. The two were engaged three months after meeting and married by July that same year. The two spent the first years of their marriage channeling their inner hippy and blissfully traveling the country in a fifth wheel camper, working odd jobs. Jim’s greatest achievement during this time was teaching their new puppy, Scooter, how to fetch his slippers.
In 1984, their whirlwind romance landed the couple in Montana—a state they believed to be the most beautiful of all the states they motored through as transients. It was here that Jim would become an electrical contractor and eventually establish a fleet of brown vans and found J&M Electric, Inc. It was also here where the couple produced another human which would turn out to be Jim’s spitting image (strong-willed, hardworking, kind yet sassy, with a twisted, dry sense of humor), and build their beautiful life together.
Jim and Renee spent the last four decades together traveling the world, adventuring, laughing, boating, skiing, camping, riding Harleys, rotating long drives in each of Jim’s prized cars, running companies, and learning new ways to avoid killing one another. Jim and Renee’s love endured the test of time (an achievement Jim attributed to his foolproof “just-shut-up” marriage method) and even in his final days he voiced his immense gratitude for his Hunny’s unrelenting love and dedication. Jim and Renee were three weeks shy of celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary together.
Jim was a kind, gentle soul who not only sacrificed to serve his country, but for decades sacrificed to give to his loved ones and his community. He extended his huge heart to countless others including as a donor to the Humane Society of Western Montana, St. Jude, and to various organizations supporting fellow service members and law enforcement.
Jim was also one of the primary donors who volunteered countless hours and materials to help build the Missoula Glacier Ice Rink in 1995. After construction, Jim helped to prime the Ice Rink with his fancy footwork as a player on various Glacier Ice Rink hockey teams. While Jim did spend many hours skating (and sitting in the penalty box), he most enjoyed the comradery that came along with it and believed hockey should be “more about drinking beer than playing hockey.” Jim continued to support his hockey friends in a beer-drinking capacity even after his diagnosis and remained a sponsor for the J&M Electric team well after he hung up his skates.
Jim would tell you that his life’s goal was to “leave this world not owing anything to anyone but having lots of favors owed” to him. This logic is a testament to both his “nothing in this world is free” mantra, and his giving heart. Jim was pleased to have achieved that very goal—having earned his way through life, built his successes from the ground up, and repaying all his debts along the way. He also left this world with a list of those owing him favors and will be patiently waiting in Heaven for you. You can find him by the bar—he’ll be the one sipping an Old Fashioned with extra cherries and wearing plastic sandals he bought on a beach in Mexico.
He is survived first and foremost by his pride-and-joy—a cherry red, 1966 Pontiac GTO; his loving wife, lifelong love, and doting caregiver, Renee; his favorite (i.e. only) daughter about whom he’s always found a reason to brag, Jennifer; his fellow gearhead and son-in-law, Jake; his beloved sister, Kathleen “Kathy” and crass joke sharing, drinking buddy and brother-in-law, Don Decker and their Illinois family; forever-“baby” brother, Tom, sister-in-law Cathy and their Georgia family; two furry “grandchildren” that he never wanted, but whom could always be found faithfully resting in his lap, even in his final weeks on this earth; and countless other friends, family, and friends who have become family.
Everyone who remembers Jim is asked to celebrate his life by toasting with your favorite beverage and telling a favorite story about Jim. The story should not be told in the presence of children (as it will undoubtedly include choice words and off-color jokes fueled by whiskey) and should bring an ear-to-ear smile and full-belly-laughs to the room.
Any celebration should also include indulging your inner-child’s favorite sweets. Gummy worms, Twizzler nibs, cotton candy, or apple pies are a few suggestions from Jim.
Jim would be appalled to know anyone wasted their money on flowers. As a self-proclaimed tightwad who is already undoubtedly upset over the number of excess words in this obituary, he would roll his eyes and tell you to instead, use your hard-earned money to do an unexpected act of kindness for some less fortunate soul, donate to your favorite charity, or treat yourself to a ribeye and beer.
A celebration of Jim’s life will be held at Garden City Funeral Home in Missoula on Friday, July 30th at 11 a.m.
A second celebration of life will be held at Seals-Campbell Funeral Home in Marseilles, IL on Wednesday September 1st at 11 a.m., followed by graveside military honors and interment of ashes in the family burial plot, and reception at the American Legion Post 235.
On a more serious note, “Mac”, “Hack”, “Eeyore”, “Boss”, “Uncle Yogi”, “Big Bro”, “Papa Princess”, “Himae”, “Jimmy”, “Pops”… you were a hero, inspiration and bright light in this world and will be so missed by so many.