Watertown mayor K.J. McDonald died Thursday, Oct. 4, after a nearly yearlong battle with melanoma, a type of cancer.
Born in Watertown in 1929, McDonald spent much of his life serving his hometown both as a politician and as an active community member. In addition to serving as mayor, city council member and state representative, McDonald was active in the local American Legion post for more than 50 years, serving as Post Commander and Adjutant. He also was an active member of the Watertown Lions Club since 1973 and has been a member of the Tri-County Toastmaster’s since the club’s inception 41 years ago. He also has been active in community theater and in his church, among many other areas.
McDonald, a Korean War veteran who served as a Photo Intelligence Specialist and Combat Aerial Photographer in the U.S. Air Force, later turned his love of photography into a professional career, frequently documenting and preserving Watertown’s history through his photos.
McDonald likely will be best remembered for his decades of political service to his city and state. McDonald first served as Watertown’s mayor in 1976-77 before being elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1977. He served seven terms in the House, from 1978-91.
Most recently, McDonald became mayor in 2005, when, as a city council member, he was appointed to the position. He was elected subsequently as mayor in 2006, 2008 and 2010. McDonald announced in August that he would not seek re-election in November due to his health.
McDonald was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma in December after a tumor was discovered near the right side of his brain in late November. He had surgery to remove the cancerous tumor, but continued to receive aggressive treatment throughout the last year.
City council member Rick Mann has been serving as acting mayor in McDonald’s absence over the last month, and will continue to do so for the next month. Mann is running against Charlotte Johnson in the city’s mayoral election, which will be held Nov. 6. Mann issued a statement Friday, Oct. 6, on behalf of the Watertown City Council and city of Watertown. It reads:
“Last night, the city of Watertown lost one of its great treasures, Mayor KJ McDonald. Born just outside of town in 1929, Mayor McDonald has been an irreplaceable lifelong advocate for our community. KJ McDonald has gone by many titles over the years — husband, veteran, photographer, state representative, Toastmasters President, Legion Commander, local actor, father, parishioner, council member, Lions member, grandfather, friend, Boy Scoutmaster, but perhaps none as fitting as Mayor.
“Mayor McDonald held a deep-rooted belief that good governance comes from good neighbors, and led Watertown with that vision as his guidepost for decision-making. Consistently reminding Council and staff that, “the best decisions are made closest to the people, Mayor McDonald lived out what it means to be a good public servant — putting community ahead of personal advancement.
“Today, we see Mayor McDonald’s belief woven into the community tapestry that makes Watertown a great place to call home. Our downtown is thriving, our schools are successful, and our community groups are active. The next time you attend a successful community fundraiser, walk through a park in Watertown, or notice our community’s charm — you will see KJ’s living legacy.”