February 15, 1940 ~ February 17, 2021

Born in: Bryan, TX
Resided in: Bryan, TX

William Thomas McDonald, Jr., known as Tom McDonald, age 81, of Bryan, quietly departed this earth Wednesday February 17, 2021, in Bryan.

Tom was born February 15, 1940, to parents Nonie and Judge W.T. McDonald, Sr., in Bryan, Texas, where he grew up and graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1958. College studies took him to Randolph-Macon Men’s College, in Ashland, Virginia, where he graduated in 1962 with his B.A. in Political Science and History.

Education continued when Tom entered law school at the University of Texas in Austin and learned from some of Texas’ best legal minds and educators, receiving his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1966. While in law school, love bloomed. Tom met Caroline Sweeney, a beautiful girl from Brownsville, Texas, who would quickly become his best friend and the love of his life. Tom and Caroline were married on July 10, 1965, in Brownsville, both entering their first formal contract—of a lifetime together. Their partnership grew with the addition of sons Scott and Don, then Don’s wife, Amanda, and their children, Hunter and Grace, all of whom brought joy, love, and laughter as their family grew.

A love of people, good conversation, and stories meant when you saw Tom, you would exchange a mixture of entertaining, humorous, and informative stories about interesting characters and events, all of which he cared about passionately.  He believed stories vividly communicated life experiences and humanity in a way that was deeper than merely stating abstractions.

Tom recorded a distinguished career in public service. He served as an Assistant District Attorney in Travis County, and as Assistant County and District Attorney in Brazos County, County Attorney for Brazos County, and District Attorney for Brazos County. In 1978, following his father’s footsteps, Tom was elected District Judge of the 85th Judicial District, a position he held through 1990. Since 1991 he served as a Senior District Judge throughout Texas.

As a prosecutor, he practiced strong enforcement of the law, but he also believed it was more important to seek justice than just convictions. And, as a judge he sought the fair administration of justice, even when it meant ruling against longtime friends and relatives, or contrary to public opinion. The State Bar Foundation awarded him the Samuel Pessarra Outstanding Civil Jurist Award. And the Criminal Law Section of the State Bar of Texas awarded him the Outstanding Criminal Jurist Award. To date, he is the only judge who has ever received both the Outstanding Civil Jurist and Outstanding Criminal Jurist Awards.

A credentialed mediator/arbitrator, Tom was frequently called upon to help resolve complex legal disputes. He was named to “Who’s Who” among Texas Mediators and was designated as a Distinguished Mediator.

Tom was active in many civic and religious affiliations: co-chair with Caroline of the Twin City Mission Capital Campaign; board member of the Downtown Bryan Association, where he served on the “Save the Queen” Committee; co-chaired the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation Bash Committee; City of Bryan Coulter Air Field Advisory Committee; President of the Brazos Valley Groundwater Conservation District, coach with the Bryan Soccer League; chair of the Brazos Animal Shelter Expansion and Education Committee; chair of the City of Bryan Parks and Recreation Board; president of the Brazos County Bar Association; a founder of the Brazos County Humane Society; charter member, Brazos Valley Chapter of Master Naturalists; member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas; member of the Sons of the American Revolution; member, Kappa Alpha Order; trustee of the St. Joseph Parochial School Trust; member of the St. Joseph Parochial School Board; a founder of the Brazos County Counseling Service, a charter member of the Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley; founder of the Bryan Eastside Historic District Independence Day Celebration; and, founder of the Boonville Heritage Park.

Tom was devoted to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Bryan, and he spent countless hours on its landscaping, maintenance, and governance. Over the years he directed innumerable projects, including the restoration of the hundred-year-old building and the “Last Supper” window. He also served as co-chair of the 125th Anniversary Committee, and other committees and as a member of the Vestry. He signed his e-mails with one of his favorite passages from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer: “Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Tom was the recipient of a number of awards and recognitions: Silver Good Citizenship Award, Sons of Hermann; Adult Correctional Administrator of the Year, Southeast Region of the Texas Corrections Association; National Medal of Honor Patriotism Award, Daughters of the American Revolution; Outstanding Administrator of the Year Award, Texas Corrections Association; Presidential Citation, State Bar of Texas; Patriot of ’76 Award, National Sojourners; Outstanding Distinguished Citizen Award, African American National Heritage Society; Hall of Honor, Bryan Independent School District; Outstanding Citizens of the Year, with wife, Caroline, Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce; and, Honored Citizens, with wife, Caroline, Community Foundation of the Brazos Valley.

A plant lover and avid gardener, Tom grew many varieties of plants (often trading with friends and supplementing from various locations) and was equally passionate about the environment, respected all of God’s creatures, and he always tried to be a good steward of our natural resources.

Tom especially enjoyed planting trees. Once, when he was teaching his young sons, Scott and Don, how to plant seedlings, they stated, “Why are we planting these little things? It will take forever for them to grow into big trees.” Tom replied, “Well, every once in a while, we need to stop and realize that the real measure of life is what we leave behind. It is about the time and effort we give, not what we take. What we give can last well beyond our life here on earth. In the end, it is about leaving a better place than we found. That is why we are planting these seedlings.” And, he quoted a Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”

Tom’s strong sense of patriotism led to the founding of an old-fashioned Fourth of July Celebration in the family’s front yard in 1978 that grew to become an annual event at Heritage Park. Also, Tom always kept a supply of U.S. and Texas flags on hand, and when he saw some flying that were tattered or faded, he would knock on the owner’s door and offer to trade their old ones for new ones. He then took the old flags to the American Legion for proper, dignified disposal.

Tom was a loving husband, devoted father and grandfather, nature lover, man of faith, committed church member, advocate of justice, a plain-spoken, common-sense, fair-minded judge, loyal friend, and example of a man who shared his time and talents freely. Helping others in the community, preserving history, conservation of nature, encouraging education and the fair and just application of the law were all most important to him.

Tom is survived by his wife, Caroline, son Scott, of Bryan; son Don, daughter-in-law Amanda, and grandchildren Hunter and Grace, of Camp Verde; sister Lucy Ellen Harris; and nephew Garrett Sanders, of San Antonio; sister-in-law, Mary Peyton Cochran of Charlotte, NC; and brother-in-law, Peyton Sweeney Jr. and wife Maggie, of Lago Vista.

There will be a private family service at St. Andrews Episcopal Church. A public Celebration of Life will be announced at a later date.  Contributions may be made in Tom’s memory to the St. Andrew’s Building Fund, the local fund of CHI St. Joseph Hospital, the Community Foundation, or to the charity of choice.

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  1. Sweet Caroline,
    God has gained a good man! Over many years of my life in Bryan, I always had so much respect for you and Judge McDonald. I drank many a cups of coffee with him on his visits to Hilliers and learned so much history. May Gods bless you and give you strength.
    Gina Parker Maness

  2. Yesterday morning, shortly after 8:00 AM, I received a call from Caroline McDonald – one that I was dreading but expecting – in which she informed me that my good friend Tom McDonald, a retired Texas District Judge, had passed away around midnight.

    Over the past several decades – I’ve known him for a half century – Tom and I have been laborers in the fields of criminal justice, hunting buddies, co-conspirators in a number of activities, unofficial lobbyists for probation and the judiciary, co-authors of several publications, frequent dining companions, participants in countless road trips, advocates for historic sites, pewmates at the 7:30 AM service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Bryan, and, relying on a term originally used in the 1978 American college classic film Animal House, on a number of occasions we have been on “double secret probation” under the supervision of our wives after we had engaged in some mischief.

    His departure is a great loss to his friends and society as a whole. There are so many projects in Brazos County that would have never come to fruition had it not been for Tom’s leadership and commitment. If fact, one would be hard pressed to find a successful endeavor in the Brazos Valley that did not have Tom’s DNA on it.

    Tom was one of my closest friends, and I am devastated by his passing. I take comfort in the knowledge that he is no longer suffering, that he has joined the majority, and that he is enjoying the company of his Maker. I will truly miss his company.

    Caroline, Scott, and Don, you have my deepest sympathies.

  3. I always enjoyed our conversions when he would come to work out at our gym. He was always so kind. He even helped talk me through some difficult times, and when I finally broke through them he told me, “Now you’re a liberated woman!”. He always made me feel lighter after we talked, even if they were short exchanges. I pray for the family he has left behind. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

  4. Dear Lord, bless this family with comfort and love.

    Tom was loved by all whoever meet him. He such a gentile calm about him. May he Rest In Peace with you Lord Jesus.

    We have so many great memories, and we are thankful for all of them.

    The Read family sends our love, honor and respect to the McDonald family.

    Phillip & Amy Read

  5. I am so very sorry to hear of Tom’s death. A man of intelligence, justice, compassion and humor, he treated others with respect, gave back generously to the community, and set a great example for others. I am honored to have known him.
    Caroline, my deepest condolences to you and your family. His love will always be with you.

  6. To the McDonald Family,

    Our heartfelt condolences.
    We so enjoyed Tom on our visits to Bryan and his visits to our shop here in Florida.
    He gave us our first chickens.
    We loved just sitting on the porch here and talking for hours.
    What an incredible man.

  7. Our prayers are sent to the McDonald family. We enjoyed working with Tom over the years.
    Mike and Frances Niemeyer

  8. My heart is heavy. My condolences Caroline, Don and Scott. Praying for peace and comfort for you all. I know this is a tremendous loss to your family and to those who knew and loved him. His passing will leave a void that cannot be filled and will be felt throughout the community. Love to you all.

  9. When we moved across the street from Tom and Caroline 11 years ago, they welcomed us so kindly. As the the unofficial master gardener for our block, Tom also made sure we were capable caregivers of the two big live oak trees in our front yard, offering advice and help with pruning. When Tom gave us a baby palm tree, it felt like we had earned a merit badge in tree caregiving. We will miss our middle-of-the-street conversations with Tom about trees and plants, downtown redevelopment, politics and social justice.

  10. Our heartfelt condolences to Caroline, Scott, Don and all family of Tom’s. Tom has been received back home but, his generosity, compassion, courage, selflessness, and humility towards everyone, will always be remembered . We will be praying for all of you during this difficult time.

  11. I was so saddened to hear of Judge McDonald’s passing. He was a great man and very good friend. He and Caroline gave so much to this community. I always enjoyed his phone calls and visits, especially when he wanted to talk about the Texas Open Meetings Act. I was honored that he considered me a good source of information on that topic. My dad thought the world of Judge and his father, and I know they are having a great time drinking coffee and telling jokes up there.

    Sincere condolences to the family, and prayers for God’s peace and comfort.

  12. Tom was one of the most wonderful men I have ever met! So honest and good, so glad that I got to know him.

    Caroline, my heart goes out to you.

    Debbie Palermo Paine

  13. Judge McDonald was a Brazos County treasure. He often entertained me with his knowledge along with his incredibly endearing and humorous stories from a lifetime of living and working in our community. He was smart, funny and gifted in gently but fairly handling resolutions, whether legal or personal. He will be missed greatly.

  14. Carolyn, Scott, and Don
    I taught Scott at St. Michael’s. Don was in my daughter’s class . My last name was McMurrey then. I have often remembered your kindness and friendship after I moved to Austin to go to law school. My house is across the street from the State Cemetery. White fence, large green Victorian, if I can do anything. He was such a good man.

  15. Tom McDonald: A man of the people. Always on the look out for the rights of the little guy. A judge of great equity and fairness. We had our battles when I was DA, but were great friends for the last 20 years. Tremendous loss to this community. I will miss my dear friend. My prayers are with Caroline and the family. Rest In Peace.

  16. To the family of Judge Tom McDonald, Jr. May Peace be with you at this time. We at the Brazos Valley African American Museum will greatly miss Judge McDonald. While he has graced us with charitable gifts, know that these have only added to our understanding and appreciation of his friendship.

  17. I’v lost one of my dearest friends. Tom and I first met at Mrs. Fishers kindergarten in the latter days of WW2. We lived only one block away from one another so we played together. Tom was two years behind me in school. We both went to law school. I went to Baylor, Tom to Texas. I stayed with Tom on weekends when visiting my future wife who was at Texas. Tom was District Attorney when I was County Attorney. We both attend Saint Andrews church and have worked on many projects together. I’ll miss you Tom Tom but I have many wonderful memories. Love to Caroline and the boys.

  18. I was saddened to learn of Tom’s passing. He was a decent man – a kind man – a fair judge – respected by all for the way he comported himself, on and off the bench – he will be missed- and remembered.,
    May his memory be for blessing
    Allen Segal

  19. The legacy of Tom is strong!! I was roommates with his son Don in college. Every time Tom and Caroline came for I knew we were in for a treat. Tom had a smile that would bring joy to everyone in the room! He was always so kind hearted, understanding, patient (lord knows we were wild back in the college days), and fun! Tom always got a laugh out of our “priorities!”
    Tom was a wonderful man and will be greatly missed!
    I know we would all like one more smile, one more hug, one more time where Tom could offer words of encouragement! Since he is gone we can hold our memories tight!!
    Tom we will all miss you!!!
    See you on the other side one day!!
    Andrew Alexander

  20. Tom was great neighbor for the community. He was a “doer” in the truest sense of the word. We’re all better for knowing him.

  21. I am so sorry to have lost a kind and gentle neighbor….always concerned about others and so friendly and fun to be around. I wasn’t able to see much of Tom in the past few years but will always have great memories of him and Caroline. My thoughts are with you Caroline and with your family. Tom’s legacy was a great one and I am glad I can say I knew him. May you find peace in your wonderful memories. I thank you and Tom also for setting an example of being a great neighbor for your son Don. He has been a great help to me and Amanda as well. Again my family send you our thoughts and prayers as you say goodbye to a wonderful man.

  22. I was so sorry to learn of Tom’s passing. I have fond memories of our many adventures, which began shortly after I opened my law office in Bryan in 1976. Though circumstances were such that I seldom saw him in recent years, whenever we did have lunch or coffee – it was as if we had remained in constant contact. He was such a good friend – to so many people. What a kind, generous, funny, principled and thoroughly decent person. My condolences to Caroline and the boys. He will be sorely missed.

  23. How many times I babysat for Scott and Don, and then enjoyed visiting with Judge and Mrs. McDonald when they came home. The world, and especially the community of Bryan/College Station, are better for having Judge McDonald in it. The lives he touched, the lessons he taught, the dignity and honor of a true patriot and Christian will always be his legacy.

  24. I met Judge McDonald thru my neighbors Vic and Margurite Vic was Judge McDonalds bayliff and dear friend. When Judge McDonald would stop in for a visit, they would sit in Vic’s shop and tell stories. I loved listening to them. Now they are both gone. Judge McDonald would always take time to speak when he met you on the street or at the farmers market. He was a great guy. Prayers for Caroline and the family.
    Jan Robbins

  25. The HONORABLE Tom McDonald SHALL live in ETERNITY with us all. Tom’s stature in community is unparalleled with utmost DIGNITY. His publications regarding antithetical War on Drugs and clear implications of fact was proved first hand. Tom’s published works stated with sussinct objective clarity,-that (should have been stated) “without this applicational insight we will all crumble.”… Tom’s writings stand profound to the despots inherent in BCS local office today and Dictators that run for their lives today. The Cattle Drive Justice, hands in decisional oil thefts, pay for decision renderings, no bond kidnapping of accused,, obstruction of justice by all Socraric Members of Irony,….(Socrates: loved little boys like Steve Smith is obsessively involved in Boy’s Clubs…) 30 years later Tom’s vivid construct in warns is clear, but the local Coward’s of BAR won’t revolt. Evidence of county oils deals to subvert municipal money supply and steal from citizens through negotiative inclusions of “negotiator” are ripe for action. Although Tom’s brilliant conditions of candor, reality, integrity, conscionability, and morality shall with steadfast live in us all, the determination and WILL of Tom should compell us all to recognize truths and deliberately move on actionable, not just sit back and observe….Tom’s dream of Honor and Justice shouldn’t merely stand to a local ecosystem of crony criminals that are now dependant on tax theft funds for pay. Tom’s dreaded vision has today actually manifested. The Courts, the crime, the police, The Lawyers, offer now a One Way Trip to Self Compensate, All county and district courts offer supplanted jury roles whether with currents at a spacious rodeo arena or trial by video vector from county jail with no legal actionable posture, news from unworthy manipulated sources, both The Eagle and KBTX and it’s police rubber stamp agenda, -the community now deals with inverse property appreciation and is recurrently riddled with migratory scum of surrounding cities and communities whom find their way into Bryan, Texas as their most beautiful, next, CARDBOARD box.
    Tom distanced himself from the local goons and erected a beautiful medical facility west of Texas A&M Campus for Texas A&M Uniniserity although his blood was hued in beautiful, Burnt Orange. Tom’s clarity in observing facts, and with his conscionable forthought he, with deliverance and purpose, removed himself from spectal of local devolution and disappearance of jurisprudence. Tom will forever remind our community that “you either write something worth reading, or DO something worth writing about”….This is also in hounour of my father and grandfather whom knew and REVERED The HONORABLE William “Tom” McDonald…..!!!!!

  26. Tom was the dear friend of my childhood and youth; I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know him. We were together throughout our entire schoolboy years from Mrs Fisher’s kindergarten in 1944 until graduation from the old SFA High School in 1958. We had many boyhood adventures together, one of the most memorable for me was playing hooky on a Friday afternoon from 9th grade at the then Lamar Junior High School. Tom had an old crank-start Model T Ford, and we took off to tour the Navasota River bottom. About half an hour out, the old engine started missing, and, instead of stopping the car, I climbed out on the running board, opened the engine flap, and started trying to adjust the engine timing. Tom, as driver, was observing me and giving me instructions until he suddenly noticed he was driving into the ditch. He quickly swerved the car, but I lost my hold, continued forward into the ditch, landing on my head and receiving a amnesiac concussion. All I could remember was that both of us should have been in Mrs McClure’s history class instead of where we were. Tom, understandably worried, took me home. Luckily, my parents were gone and wouldn’t be home until after 5:00 p.m. Tom consulted the Boy Scout Manual and applied first aid, leaving just before 5:00 p.m. My Mother found me on the bed, wrapped in a blanket, with my feet elevated. Perfect first aid! Even though I had to go to the doctor the next day, I regained my memory, and Tom’s treatment was successful. The downside was our hooky-playing episode was uncovered.

    As both of us were in school in the northeast, we visited several times during our college time. Tom came up to visit during an Army-Navy game; I spent a long weekend with him in Washington when he was a Congressional intern, and, after New Year 1962, we drove all the way from Bryan to Ashland, Virginia, in 32 hours by switching sleeping and driving in the days before the Interstate. The next day, Tom drove me to Washington to take the shuttle to New York, and we both finished our last semester.

    For the last 60 years, our paths have taken quite different directions, but I have always tried to keep in touch with Tom and to visit him every time I came to Texas. I enjoyed his company as much when he was an accomplished adult as I did when he was a boy. His wit was sharp, his insight incisive, and his personality warm. He was an essential part of my life, and I have lost an old and dear friend.

    Caroline, Scott, and Don. My deepest sympathies and condolences. I can understand the depth of your loss.

  27. The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History extends our sincere sympathy to Caroline and family for your loss. Judge McDonald was such a caring man and an outstanding supporter of so many worthwhile endeavors in our community. He will be greatly missed! Our thoughts and prayers are with you; sending love and hugs.
    Best wishes,
    Deborah, Board of Trustees, and Staff

  28. Caroline, Scott and Don:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Grief can be so hard, but our special memories help us cope. Remembering “Tom Tom” today and always. I will always remember his kindness, big smile, and overall happy outgoing personality.

    Always loved… never forgotten… forever missed ❤️

  29. Although we didn’t know your father, through knowing you we know what kind of a person he was: generous, compassionate and caring. I’m sure he will be greatly missed. Don, you showed great courage and concern when you and Amanda and Grace came by with food supplies and cake during the ice storm.

  30. Carolyn

    Sam always said Tommy was a great judge and a pretty good T-sip too.
    He always made us smile. I know how much you will miss him.

  31. Thinking of all of you during this time. He was always full of great conversation and a huge smile.

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