Prominent Tucson attorney John R. McDonald, who started a law firm with former Arizona attorney general and state Supreme Court Justice Evo DeConcini in 1968, died Thursday of cancer. He was 79.

McDonald was remembered Friday as a passionate attorney and devoted family man with a "quirky" sense of humor, a love of UA sports and an appreciation for the arts.

McDonald was born in Connorsville, Ind. He came to Tucson with his family at the age of 8, said his son, Rick McDonald. He studied history as an undergraduate at the UA, and graduated from the UA law school.

McDonald married his wife, Mary Alice, in 1957. She died in 2007, just shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. They had three children, Anne, Rick and Colleen and had several grandchildren.

Rick McDonald said his father worked hard to instill a sense of ethics and responsibility in his children, along with an appreciation for music. He was a board member of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and involved with the Grand Canyon Music Festival. He also had season tickets to UA football and basketball games.

Retired Arizona Court of Appeals Judge J. William Brammer Jr. went to work for McDonald and DeConcini shortly after they founded their law firm and remained until his appointment to the bench in 1997.

"He was a consummately skilled lawyer and very intelligent," Brammer said. "He cared deeply for his clients and he committed himself to their cases completely."

Although McDonald was diagnosed with colon cancer more than four years ago, he continued to work up until February, Rick McDonald said.

"He wanted to keep working," Rick McDonald said. "He just loved the law."

When Rose Silver was appointed Pima County attorney in 1969, Brammer said she asked former Sen. Dennis Deconcini if he would handle litigation for what is now the Tucson Unified School District and Pima Community College. It was then that McDonald began representing school boards on employment, construction and real estate issues.

McDonald served on the Catalina Foothills School District board and was once president of the Arizona School Boards Association, which gives an annual award named after him.

McDonald put himself through the UA working as a janitor at Hughes Aircraft Company and felt strongly about education, Rick McDonald said. "He spent most of his adult life working to improve education."

McDonald introduced him to tennis and they often played poker together, Brammer said. They also became business partners.

Brammer recalled McDonald's love of family and how much he missed his wife these last few years.

When Brammer's wife, Donna, first met McDonald, she was intimidated by him, he said.

"She soon came to learn that he had a gruff exterior part of the time, but he was really a warm, caring human being," Brammer said. At the time they met "he and Mary Alice were good role models for a young couple like myself and Donna."

Thelma Gonzales worked as McDonald's secretary for 20 years - despite the fact that he threatened to fire her every other week.

He was never serious, but Gonzales said the threats continued because she sometimes had to mislead him about deadlines because he was a notorious procrastinator.

"We had a great relationship," Gonzales said. "I loved him dearly. He was a wonderful, wonderful man."

Services for McDonald will be at 3 p.m. on Sept. 30 at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, 3809 E. Third St.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to one of the following: Grand Canyon Music Festival, Tucson Community Food Bank, American Cancer Society or New Beginning for Women and Children.

Contact report Kim Smith at 573-4241 or