Marjorie McDonald, first female mayor of North Miami Beach, dies at 98

Marjorie McDonald is pictured here with her husband, William McDonald. Both had served as mayors of North Miami Beach. Marjorie was the first woman elected to the position she held from 1981 to 1987. She died at 98 on Jan. 12.
Marjorie McDonald is pictured here with her husband, William McDonald. Both had served as mayors of North Miami Beach. Marjorie was the first woman elected to the position she held from 1981 to 1987. She died at 98 on Jan. 12.
Courtesy Richard McDonald

As the first woman elected mayor of North Miami Beach, Marjorie McDonald wasn’t used to silence.

She had already served 14 years, six of them as mayor from 1981 to 1987, when she lost a hotly contested race to Joe Moffat.

In her time on the council, she worked on beautification efforts in the city, including sponsoring ordinances against unsightly trucks (shades of Coral Gables) and littering. She oversaw the design of a five-mile bike way along Snake Creek Canal. An activities center in the city carries the names of McDonald and her husband, William, who also was a mayor in the city. He died in 1975.

It took Miami-Dade County decades to seat three female mayors at one time and just one election to discard them all in 1987 when McDonald, Coral Gables’ Dorothy Thomson and Miami Shores’ Karen Kirby lost reelection bids.

“I miss it,” McDonald said soon after when asked about the end of her run as an elected official. “I was there 14 years. I miss the people, the involvement.”

McDonald, who died peacefully in her sleep on Jan. 12 at age 98 at her home in Sebastian, remained active, however.

She lived in North Miami Beach a quarter century and was an administrator of Robert Sharp Towers on Northwest 202nd Terrace and a member of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, among other endeavors. She moved to Sebastian to be closer to her son, Richard, a retired electronics engineer and former Naval petty officer.

“She’s just been very successful at everything she’s done,” McDonald, 73, said this week. “She was always there for me ever since I was a little kid. Her total of 14 years with the city, on that city council, she did so many good things that made the world a better place.”

Marjorie McDonald was born in Springfield, Mass. North Miami Beach was a different community when the McDonalds settled there in the 1950s. More rural, less congested, their son remembers.

“When I was a kid, the Everglades were right off the edge of North Miami Beach. We used to go off. I’d go duck hunting and camp out overnight before the high rises came. After dad passed, mom stayed in the same house and then became a director at Sharp Towers. They gave her an apartment but she still stayed in the house at North Miami Beach.”

The demands of a public life didn’t pull her away from her children, which included daughter Mary Ann Lawrence, a school teacher who died from cancer a decade ago, said McDonald.

“I was very proud of her and her accomplishments,” Richard McDonald said. “I didn’t feel like my time was neglected. My work ethic, I got that from both my mother and father. I always looked at them as a unit together. Their work ethic set a great example, their honesty. Back when my father first got into politics there was a lot of graft in the city and a lot of the big shots were not paying taxes on property in the beach areas. Both my mother and father have always been honest and that’s hard to find in politics today. They wouldn’t let anyone get away with anything.”

Indeed, in 1987, the year when television’s Miami Vice ditched its pastels for a darker, muted look, and in the midst of a hard-fought campaign, Marjorie McDonald wrote a letter to the Miami Herald’s editorial board pleading that the “fundamental precepts of democracy and our elected system of government are based on a sense of ‘fair play.’…I would always expect the respect of every citizen for the offices we hold and the dignity that attaches to those offices.”

Richard McDonald hoped that photographs accompanying memorials for his mom would picture his parents together.

“Truth be known, the two of them together formed a dynasty in the city for almost 30 years. Old age brought her down. She just wore out.”

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Van Orsdel Design District Chapel, 3333 NE Second Ave., Miami. Visitation will be followed by a service at noon and burial at Southern Memorial Park, 15000 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami.

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