HICKORY – Bill McDonald liked to say challenges are opportunities in work clothes.
The former Hickory mayor died Saturday. He dedicated most of his life to creating opportunities out of challenges in his hometown and beyond. He was 79.
McDonald was a pharmacist by profession, the owner of Ninth Avenue Pharmacy and Viewmont Pharmacy, but his passion was making his community a better place. During his tenure as mayor of Hickory from 1981 to 2001, he oversaw a period of rapid growth. Decisions made during those 20 years continue to impact the city.
Hickory councilman Bruce Meisner said McDonald was more than just a friend; he was a mentor. Meisner served on the council during nearly all of McDonald’s time as mayor. He said McDonald taught him there is always a win-win situation—sometimes you just have to look really hard to find it.
“He was always for the betterment of the City of Hickory,” Meisner said.
Jeff Hale, chief financial officer of Hickory Printing Solutions, echoed Meisner by calling McDonald a mentor. Hale was a recent college graduate when he met McDonald.
“I watched what he did. He was just kind to people and compassionate,” Hale said.
Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright said the city’s tax base grew from $600 million to $4 billion while McDonald was mayor. His skill was in making tough decisions while keeping a good humor about him, Wright said.
Wright said the development of Hickory as a regional supplier of water was one of McDonald’s most enduring initiatives. The plan required the city to make the largest financial investment it had ever made and continues to be an asset to the community.
The widening of N.C. 127 in Viewmont was a controversial undertaking, but Wright said it is now clear McDonald made the right choice in supporting it.
McDonald’s drive to improve Hickory never waned, even as a long-term respiratory illness worsened.
When he and his wife, Susan, moved back to Hickory last fall after spending several years living at Sunset Beach, Wright appointed McDonald to serve on the Parks and Recreation Commission. Even as his health failed over the last few weeks, Susan drove McDonald around to scope out the city’s parks so he could think about ways to make them better.
A scholarship fund to provide sports equipment for children who participate in Hickory’s parks and recreation programs is planned in McDonald’s memory.
McDonald graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was an avid Tar Heels fan. He was an Eagle Scout, Jaycees state president, and two-time recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. He was a member of Seaside Methodist Church in Sunset Beach and attended First Presbyterian Church and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hickory.
In addition to his wife, McDonald is survived by five children and three grandchildren.
Susan McDonald said she remembered her husband telling her recently that she was his best friend and the love of her life. She said he was the love of hers. McDonald was always hesitant to take credit for his good works and would most want to be remembered as a good father, grandfather, husband and friend, she said.
Friends, colleagues share their thoughts on Bill McDonald
“Although some people walked away upset with the way he voted, everybody understood why he voted that way.” –Bruce Meisner
“He exuded kind of a remarkable quality of just a real good person. …He made you feel special.” –Jeff Hale
“He did the job and he made the tough decisions and he lived with them. … I have a tremendous amount of respect for him for serving 20 years and for the legacy he’s left.” –Rudy Wright
“He used his impeccable people skills to make things happen, whether in his personal or professional life.” –Mandy Pitts