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David McDonald, former Pelco CEO and Fresno philanthropist, dies

David McDonald, a Fresno philanthropist and former Pelco CEO, died Wednesday.

In 1987, McDonald bought Pelco — a small company that specialized in security cameras — and over the course of several years turned it into a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

As a philanthropist, he supported everything from a memorial for the victims and first responders of 9/11 to a shelter for pets.

Deputies responded to his Prather home to provide medical aid shortly before 9 a.m Wednesday. He was later pronounced dead at the home, said Tony Botti, a spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. The cause of death appears to be natural, Botti said.

McDonald was 69.

His death came as a shock to the community, including many of the city’s top leaders, who noted his generosity and business savvy.

“I am shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of my friend, David McDonald,” Mayor Lee Brand said in a statement.

“I had just spoken with Dave recently and was looking forward to working with him in the New Year to help bring our community together. It’s a huge loss for the Central Valley. Dave was an exceptional businessman and an even better person who was always willing to give back to his community, and his generosity made a big difference in our quality of life. He was a bold and visionary leader who will never be forgotten and great civic institutions like the Fresno Chaffee Zoo are better now because of him.”

“David McDonald was a tremendous blessing to our community, and his generous spirit will be deeply missed,” said Ashley Swearengin, former Fresno mayor and CEO of Central Valley Community Foundation.

“Not only did he build a successful business that created local jobs for thousands of families, but he also demonstrated time and again what it looks like to truly serve a community. Whether it was organizing the largest Toys for Tots campaign in the nation, or leading the charge to develop a world-class zoo, David was committed to bettering Fresno and the Central Valley,” she said.

McDonald’s business success was well known in the San Joaquin Valley and throughout the state. Founded in 1957, Pelco moved from Gardena to Fresno in 1982, then to Clovis five years later. Back then, it had 100 employees.

At its peak, Pelco, was a world leader in close-circuit security cameras, dominating the North American markets. At one time, Pelco employed 2,200 employees in Clovis and 2,600 worldwide. The company occupies most of the Clovis Industrial Park, near Peach and Dakota avenues, and owns about 30 additional acres.

But the need for continued growth prompted McDonald and his partners to sell Pelco in 2007 to French conglomerate Schneider Electric, maker of a wide range of electrical products. Schneider acquired Pelco for $1.54 billion in a cash deal.

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Doggie.JPG
David McDonald, with the bronze sculpture of his beloved Miss Winkles, by Lorne McKean of England, in the lobby of the Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center -- JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Stalwart philanthropist

In 2011, McDonald donated $2 million towards the construction of the Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center in Clovis. The shelter was named Miss Winkles after McDonald’s West Highland terrier that died several years earlier after she was bitten by a snake.

McDonald was deeply affected by the thousands of lives lost during the terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in New York City. He built a California Memorial on Pelco’s grounds in Clovis — a bronze plaque set in granite with a 100-foot flagpole rising from the center, plus a museum — to pay tribute to the fallen public safety officers.

He also opened the doors of his security-camera company and his foothill estate to thousands of cops and firefighters, flying them in chartered jets, for dedication of the memorial and a weekend holiday.

Pelco had extensive business ties to New York City. It had its cameras in the World Trade Center and Yankee Stadium, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and New York Police Department headquarters. In the grim aftermath, NYPD asked Pelco to provide temporary cameras to search for survivors in places where it was too dangerous for people to go.

“The tragedy hit us a little harder than the average person,” McDonald said at the time.

Alan Autry, another former Fresno mayor who considered McDonald a close friend, said the philanthropist preferred to work behind the scenes on issues.

McDonald’s work on Measure Z to benefit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo exemplified the type of issues he tackled.

“We used to talk a lot about things that are going to outlive us and things that can benefit future generations,” Autry said. “That’s what really got him going about the zoo. He knew the Fresno area really didn’t have as many places to take families like in Southern California. He had a vision for the zoo — to make it a world-class zoo.”

McDonald’s latest effort was the Fresno for Parks sales tax initiative. Weeks before the November election, McDonald joined the Yes on Measure P campaign, giving the campaign hefty financial resources. Both Autry and Swearengin expressed gratitude for his support for Yes on P.

“He spent his final months dedicated to his latest cause — improving Fresno’s deteriorating parks — and we will be forever grateful for his leadership and vision as we strive to honor his legacy,” Swearengin said.

Autry said he was aware McDonald’s health was not in the best shape recently, but his death still came as a shock.

“It’s a big loss for the community, for the world,” Autry said. “He was truly a global figure.”

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