In Memoriam John Samuel Mcdonald

OCTOBER 7, 1941

Upon the coming in of Court in the afternoon of October 7, 1941, Chief Justice EDWARD M. SHARPE spoke as follows:

We are now arrived at the hour of the opening of Court and we will hold a memorial service to late Justice JOHN S. MCDONALD.

We will be glad to bear from Mr. Philip H. Travis of the Grand Rapids Bar.

May it please the Court:
A committee was appointed by Mr. Fred N. Searl, the president of the Grand Rapids Bar, to prepare some papers to be presented on this occasion, and it so happens that I was made chairman of the committee; the other members being Circuit Judge William B. Brown, Mr. Keeney, Mr. McAllister, and Mr. Corwin. I believe those gentlemen are all here today except Mr. McAllister who is not feeling well and thought it best not to come.

JOHN S. MCDONALD died July 6, 1941, leaving surviving his widow, Adelaide Duncan McDonald, and a son, John Duncan McDonald, and two grandchildren.

He was born in Dundas County, Ontario, on February 8, 1864. When he was about two years old his family moved to a farm near Thamesville, Ontario. He attended school at Ridgetown, Ontario, and in 1887 and 1888 at Victoria University, Coburg, Ontario. Teaching school for a short time at Florence, Ontario, he then came to Grand Rapids, where he continued teaching for two years in Seymour School. His earnings enabled him to enter the Law Department of the University of Michigan, but at the end of one year he returned to Grand Rapids and entered the law office of Eggleston & McBride where he completed his law studies and was admitted to the bar.

In the fall of 1906 he was elected prosecuting attorney of Kent county, serving until March, 1908, when Governor Warner appointed him circuit judge of Kent county to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Judge Alfred Wolcott. Prior to this time he had been associated with Honorable William E. Grove in the practice of law. He filled this office until March, 1922, when he was. appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Michigan by Governor Alex J. Groesbeck. He was later elected and re-elected and served until January 1, 1934, when he returned to private practice in Grand Rapids in partnership with his son John Duncan McDonald, under the firm name of McDonald & McDonald.

In 1939 he was appointed chief counsel for the State of Michigan in the Grand Trunk Railroad litigation. He rounded out a distinguished legal career when, at the age of 75 years, he tried the Grand Trunk tax cases in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In that litigation he won a brilliant victory for the State, securing a payment of back taxes in excess of $1,000,000 and establishing a legal method by which the State Tax Commission might properly compute the valuation of railroad properties for taxation purposes.

When he was prosecuting attorney he did energetic and efficient service in enforcing the laws against vice and liquor violations, one of his outstanding contributions to society being his loyalty to, and service in, the cause of decency and sobriety.

He was a wise and able counselor, having a clear and logical mind. His arguments as a lawyer and his opinions as a judge were direct, forceful and to the point, often flavored with appropriate expressions of humor. He was well read in the law and familiar with the outstanding utterances of great lawyers, which, with other qualifications, including a good memory and a natural legal mind, made him an adversary to be respected as a lawyer and a safe and dependable expounder of the principles of human rights and duties as a judge upon the bench.

For many years Judge McDonald held exacting and responsible public office and the duties of every responsibility undertaken by him were met and performed with well-merited credit to him and with benefit to the public. He was always the friend and sympathizer with the common people and at the same time patriotic to his country and loyal to the Constitution of the United States.

He was a devoted member of the First Methodist Church of Grand Rapids, attended its services and consistently labored to the end that churches and church members stand firm on questions of right and wrong and patriotic loyalty. He was a manly man among men, an honored judge among judges, a credit to his profession and to the judiciary of the State.

In recognition of his ability and accomplishments an honorary degree of Bachelor of Laws was awarded him on June 6, 1924, as of the class of 1891, by the University of Michigan. It is because of his genuine worth, his great service to the profession, his leadership and inspiring influence, his loyalty to Americanism and other splendid qualities, that in his passing it must be recognized that a great loss has been sustained by the State to which he gave many years of able and helpful service, by the bar of Michigan of which he was a distinguished and honored member, and by his many friends to whom he was a modest and friendly companion and counselor, and by his family who have lost a devoted husband and a kindly and indulgent father.

The Grand Rapids bar, of which he was a member, has deemed it proper and appropriate that a copy of this memorial be presented to this Court in order that its files and records may contain a deserving testimonial to a Justice who sat in this Court f or so many years.

We desire to thank this Court for affording this opportunity to pay tribute to the memory Of JOHN S. MCDONALD.
Thank you.

Thank you.
Mr. Keeney of the Grand Rapids bar.

May it please the Court:
The committee of the Grand Rapids bar have asked me to say a few words, with Your Honors’ permission, in commemoration of the career of Judge MCDONALD which has now been brought to a close.

I remember when I first met Judge MCDONALD. He was then a young man and had come, very recently, from the Law School of the University of Michigan. I can fix the time; it was about 1892. I can tell that because of the case in which I first recollect meeting him and I formed at that time an acquaintance with him which continued throughout his life.

He was a most companionable man and it was a pleasure to know him.

I have read with a great deal of interest these resolutions which have been prepared and submitted for this committee by Mr. Travis. I wish to say to Your Honors that I subscribe most thoroughly to all that has been said. I admire the tone of these resolutions. They are carefully expressed and without any hyperbole or exaggeration of any kind dealing with the facts of Judge MCDONALD’S career as we who have known him at Grand Rapids for so many years have known and understood.

The memorial that has been presented to Your Honors speaks of Judge MCDONALD’S public career. I knew him, of course, at the time when he began his practice at Grand Rapids and I like to think of him as a resolute, energetic young man prepared for the career which he hoped was before him, and he was ready to do everything within his power to make that career of benefit to himself and others. When I first knew him, he was trying to build up his legal career, and he did that, and for so many years devoted his entire time in that effort. Within a few years he betrayed a great liking for public life and, from the time when he became a candidate for prosecuting attorney in Kent county to the time when he ceased his service upon this honorable Court, he served in a public way in the various offices to which Mr. Travis has adverted for some 27 years. It was a very full career and in it he rendered a great deal of public service.

At the time he became prosecuting attorney in Kent county—to speak frankly— many of us there knew that public affairs in Grand Rapids, in our municipal affairs, had reached a rather low tone. In his office as a prosecuting attorney he did what he could to better that situation. He faced the conditions of vice and the control of the liquor traffic as it existed, and administered, with a great deal of force and a great deal of courage, all the powers of his office to bring about a better condition of affairs in our city, and the fact that this was accomplished was influenced in great part, I think, by his efforts.

He had not served very long in that position when he was called upon to take a position on the bench when Judge Alfred Wolcott died and he served upon the bench of Kent county for a full 14 years and served very acceptably to the people of that county and won their favor as was testified to by his election and frequent re-elections.

At that time he was appointed to a position upon this bench which he held for some 12 years. It is not necessary for me to speak of his career here. It is known to us all, from experience before the Court here in a professional way, and, so far as many of Your Honors are concerned, by service upon this bench with him. He was a painstaking judge and endeavored to be very careful in his work and performed the duties of this high office to the satisfaction of the people of this State. I have no doubt about that.

Finally, when he was retired, it was one of those changes by mutation in public affairs that did not in any way indicate the slightest dissatisfaction with the work he had rendered in this high tribunal.

After he ceased to be a judge of this honorable Court he went back, as was very natural, to the practice of his profession. I shall not advert to that at all in detail but all of us know that various professional matters, many of them of a great deal of importance, were placed in his hands and that he discharged his duties in those concerns with fidelity and with ability and to the satisfaction of those by whom he was employed in those important concerns.

I do not feel that it is necessary for me to speak at greater length and I do not wish to trespass upon the valuable time of Your Honors but I am pleased to come here and pay my tribute to his service as a public official of his community and his State.
Thank you, Your Honors, for your attention.

Thank you, Mr. Keeney. It is a splendid thing to have the testimony from one like you who has known him so long and so well. Thank you for coming here today.

Judge Fead, I am sure we would like to hear from you this afternoon. We would be glad to hear from one who has known Judge MCDONALD as well as you.

If Your Honors please:
I have sometimes felt that the service of JOHN S. MCDONALD to the State while a member of this Court has not had the credit to which he was entitled. He was always very active in public affairs and through his activities in public affairs came his widest acquaintance or the widest knowledge of others of him, and, sometimes, I feel that he has been misunderstood. Perhaps it required association and work with him to make one fully appreciate him but I felt when JOHN S. MCDONALD left this bench he had gone not so much with the reputation as with the feeling that he had rendered a splendid service to the people of the State of Michigan while he was a member.

He had the ability to recognize and to plumb a legal question. He had the faculty of direct and clear expression. He had the courage to see the point and to act upon it in a judicial way. He had a deep sense of common, ordinary justice and equity. Most of his opinions I think may be said to have been merely an attempt to render justice in the particular case without necessarily the establishment of any proposition of law.

But the thing which seems to me to be the most outstanding part of his judicial career was his feeling conscious— or it may have been intuitive— that it is the highest duty of any and every Court of last resort to stand between the citizen and the State and to protect the individual in his constitutional rights against the oppression of those in authority.

Thank you, Judge Fead.
Judge Clark, I am sure we would be glad to hear from you.

May it please the Court:
To this distinguished company and to those who read the record of these proceedings as it shall be published in the reports, it seems it is not necessary to say anything of the character, learning and ability of the late Justice MCDONALD as a lawyer and jurist.

The side of Judge MCDONALD perhaps that is so well known to those in this Court, and perhaps not so well known to others, was the personal side.

He was a most lovable companion, one of the finest characters I am sure that one would be privileged to meet; generous; slow to condemn but always ready to forgive. His office in the corner of this building was a meeting place of the members of this Court and of lawyers and friends. It was a place where they always found a ready smile and a kind word.

I shall always treasure the hours I spent with him and the joy I had in his company. With me, his picture shall always hang on memory’s wall.

Thank you, Judge Clark.

It was splendid of you and Judge Fead to come here, men who served with him, and pay such splendid tributes to a very great jurist.

Is there anyone that I would like to add a word to this service?

I am going to ask Justice WIEST to respond for the Court.

JOHN S. MCDONALD as citizen, circuit judge and justice of the Supreme Court served well and has left his imprint upon public affairs and jurisprudence of this State.

Daily converse with him as an associate member of this Court for quite 12 years enabled me to form a true estimate of his talents and the splendid employment thereof in judicial service.

He was a learned and helpful associate with clear comprehension of the established law and fixed determination that it prevail. He did his own thinking and was not a spineless “yes-man.” He stood four-square for government within constitutional limitations and had a profound regard for the bill of rights with its eternal guarding of an individual against governmental encroachment and oppression.

He was not obsessed by the concept that his commission endowed him with more than an established judicial power. He did not scorn the tested wisdom of former times or feel such outmoded by his advent. The talents of a man should be measured by the use he makes of them and the measurement of Justice MCDONALD in that respect ranks high.
JOHN S. MCDONALD has responded to the Supreme Summons and entered the Great Beyond but he has left, among other things, clear, erudite opinions now recorded in many volumes of the reports of this Court to serve as future guidance, and, to that extent, he will still speak from the bench. We carry pleasant and helpful remembrances of the sterling mail and former associate.

Thank you all for coming here this afternoon and taking part in this service.

Out of respect to the memory of Judge MCDONALD this Court will adjourn until tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.