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William McDonnell ’42, former chair of SI's Board of Regents, dies at 92

William McDonnell ’42, chair of SI’s Board of Regents for 11 years — from 1980 through 1991 — died May 20 after a long illness. He was 92.

Born to Irish immigrants, Bill was educated within the city limits from grade school to SI through college, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from USF.

His history of service began in the U.S. Navy Air Corps during World War II and extended into a successful business career in the restaurant industry that started in the 1950s. Along with the late State Senator J. Eugene McAteer, Bill ran Tarantino’s Restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf and later expanded operations in 1960, building the Spinnaker Restaurant in Sausalito. Bill’s son Tim joined the business in 1976, and they operated both restaurants together for more than 40 years.

Mr. McDonnell’s civic service began in the 1960s, when he became the foreman of the San Francisco Grand Jury. During the tenure of the late Mayor Joseph Alioto, he served as president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and as the first president of the San Francisco Airport Commission. He was honored for his service with the naming of McDonnell Road at San Francisco Airport. In 1977, he was selected as a Civilian Aide to the U.S. Secretary of the Army, a post he held until 1983.

He was also deeply engaged in the business and not-for-profit community, serving in leadership roles with the San Francisco Visitors and Conventions Bureau, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Hanna Boys Center, Blue Shield of California, Seton Medical Center and the San Francisco Heart Institute. He was a member of the Olympic Club for 55 years, where he cherished his regular golf outings with his friends Don Gordon ’43, Vince Pelfini, Charlie Andrews and John LoSchiavo, S.J. ’42.

Mr. McDonnell joined SI’s Board of Regents in 1973, chaired then by the Hon. Eugene Lynch ’49. When Fr. Sauer asked Mr. McDonnell to serve as chairman, he and regent Hugh O’Donnell tried to assess the school’s financial situation — not an easy task given the accounting practices at the time.

As chair of SI’s Board of Regents starting in 1980, he proved instrumental to the success of the school’s Genesis II campaign, which sought to increase SI’s endowment after SI paid off construction costs on the Sunset District campus. His efforts helped the fund grow from $1.1 million to $4.5 million by 1985, with the proceeds providing much needed money for scholarships, facilities maintenance and faculty salaries.

Mr. McDonnell encouraged the business office to adopt modern accounting procedures, and Michael Silvestri ’67 was made business manager in 1985.

He then worked with Fr. Sauer to bring people to the board who had a variety of talents that could serve the school over the years including Bill McInerney, a talented lawyer; Paul Hazen, president of Wells Fargo Bank; and Martin D. “Pete” Murphy, senior partner of Tobin & Tobin, who would succeed McDonnell as chairman. (Mr. Murphy predeceased Mr. McDonnell, as he passed away Feb. 8 this year.)

He was also instrumental in the school’s decision to open its doors to both men and women. To honor his service to the school, San Francisco and the community, Bill received the Christ the King Award in 1990, the highest award the school can bestow upon an alumnus.

Mr. McDonnell is survived by his wife, Theresa; by his sons William ’69, Timothy ’71 and Thomas ’84; by his daughters Suzanne, Debbie, Ginny and Beth; and by many grandchildren. 

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Tuesday June 27
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