Obituary: Claire Kingman McDonald

Great-grandmother, former City Council member, community volunteer

Claire Kingman McDonald, a resident of Claremont since the late 1940s, died of natural causes on December 20, 2023. She was 96 years old, a few days shy of her 97th birthday.

Claire first visited Claremont as a child, as her aunt and fraternal grandparents lived in town. Later she received a scholarship to Pomona College and entered in the fall of 1943 at the age of 16. She was excited to go to Pomona, as her mother had graduated from Pomona College in 1918. During her freshman year, she met a handsome U.S. Army Air Cadet, Lee Cameron McDonald, who was visiting a high school friend at Pomona. They fell in love, wrote to each other for the duration of WWII, and were married in August of 1946. After they married, Lee was admitted to Pomona College where he finished his undergraduate education, which had been delayed by the war.

She finished college and then supported her husband as he made his way through graduate school. They lived first in Los Angeles, as he earned his master’s degree in political science at UCLA, then moved to Boston, where he got his Ph.D. from Harvard University.

She had their first child, Mary, in Los Angeles, and their second daughter, Alison, in Boston. In 1952, as he was about to graduate from Harvard, Mr. McDonald was invited back to Pomona College to teach in the government department. The couple were thrilled to return to both Pomona College and Claremont.

She was born in Dubuque, Iowa, the youngest of three children. Her father worked in the insurance industry and her mother was a music teacher. Her sister Mary Lee was exactly one year older, as she was born on her first birthday. She also had an older brother, Alan. The Depression hit the family hard and when her father lost his job, the family moved in with her maternal grandparents who had a home in Palos Verdes Estates in Southern California.

She adored Palos Verdes and always described it as an idyllic place to grow up. She and her siblings spent many hours at the beach. As an adult, she made sure that her children were good swimmers and had lots of opportunities in the summer to spend time at the beach.

She enjoyed being a wife and mother and was wholly dedicated to creating a warm and stable family life for her children and husband. As Mr. McDonald settled into a career as a college professor, they became the parents to four more children. Daughter Julie was born in 1953, and daughter Devon in 1955. In 1957, Devon died suddenly during the Asian flu epidemic at the age of 2. The loss was devastating to both parents, who were just 30 and 32 at the time. Nevertheless, they picked themselves up and went on to have two sons: Tom, born in 1958, and Paul, born in 1961.

As her children grew older, she became interested in civic life. In the late 1960s she was appointed to the Claremont Planning Commission. In 1970 she ran for a seat on the Claremont City Council and won. She was elected two more times, serving for a total of 12 years. During her time on the City Council she was appointed to the League of California Cities and served as vice mayor of Claremont. She loved being on the council and took the job seriously, spending many hours studying her weekly packet and taking phone calls to speak with Claremont residents.

In 1981 she was chosen as a Progress Bulletin Woman Achiever of the Year. She was also honored by the Business and Professional Women of Pomona in 1982. She was the first woman to serve as a member of the National Advisory Council of the Danforth Associates Program from 1969 to 1972. She also served as chair of both the governing board and the advisory board of Tri-City Mental Health and served as a member of California Governor Jerry Brown’s task force on Camarillo State Hospital from 1978 to 1979.

She decided not to run for a fourth term in 1982. Instead, she and her husband spent a year in Greece, where he studied Greek political theory on sabbatical. They both had a wonderful time touring the Greek peninsula and learning much about Greek history. They also traveled through much of Europe that year.

In 1984, she was urged by many Claremont residents to run for Congress. Even though the district was majority Republican and she was a Democrat, she decided to take on the challenge. Although she was not victorious, the campaign was a marvelous opportunity to work directly with the community on matters she cared about such as education, health care, mental health, children’s services, and issues of social justice.

“In the McDonald family, we always said that our father was the political philosopher; our mother the practical politician,” her family shared.

A report written after the campaign by her public relations man, Fred Stoerker, stated, “Claire McDonald ran a positive, aggressive campaign, where she sought cooperation across the district with political clubs, unions, women’s groups and all types of community organizations.” She ended up drawing more than 53,000 votes, despite the fact that she was running against an incumbent who outspent the McDonald campaign three to one.

She and her husband were founding members of the Claremont Presbyterian Church in the mid-1950s. She served as a deacon and an elder on the church session. She also served on the Presbyterian National Committee for Social Justice for 10 years in the 1990s, where she pushed the national church to divest from corporations polluting the environment, and for more openness to the LGBTQ community.

“Claire had a terrific sense of humor — a quality she shared with Lee,” her family said. “They also loved singing together. They had many close friends in Claremont. Claire always said she was truly blessed to have so many wonderful friends to sing with, talk politics with and play tennis with. Claire had a very close relationship with her sister Mary Lee, who also married a college professor. She spent many hours talking with her sister: on the phone and in person. Every year, their joint birthday on December 28th was quite the big family celebration with both families. She also remained close to her mother, who she looked after in her elder years and to her older brother, Alan. Despite Claire’s civic interests, family was where her heart was always centered.”

After Mr. McDonald retired from Pomona College the couple traveled to many countries and also took trips with each of their children and their families. In 2009 they both received the Pomona College Alumni Service Award recognizing their commitment and ongoing volunteer service to the school.

They moved into Mt. San Antonio Gardens retirement community in 2003. They enjoyed living there and spending time with friends new and old, and in their final years received excellent care and support.

They were married for 75 years, before Mr. McDonald’s death in 2021. “Over the course of their long lives, they lost three of their six children, but despite that grief, they never lost faith in each other,” her family added.

She is survived by her daughter Mary and son-in-law Jack; daughter Alison and daughter-in-law Sandy; son Paul and daughter-in-law Susan; grandchildren Satyavan, Jyoti, Matthew, Sarah and Elena; and two great-grandchildren.

Her daughter Devon died in 1957, daughter Julie in 1996, and son Tom in 2010.

A memorial service will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18 at Claremont Presbyterian Church, 1111 N. Mountain Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Natural Resources Defense Council at, Pomona College at, or Claremont Presbyterian Church at


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