Michael George McDonald, 84: He put Atlanta on advertising world map

Mike McDonald was a successful entrepreneur even as a child. Growing up in the Queens borough of New York City, he delivered groceries in a little red wagon. Later, as a young man in the U.S. Navy in Morocco, Mike sold sandwiches on the base to earn money to send home to his family.

Over the years, he went from Queens to the heart of Manhattan, the advertising world on Madison Avenue. He later used his Madison Avenue background to put Atlanta on the world’s advertising map. In 1969, he and business partner Tom Little started McDonald & Little, and it became the first hometown agency Coca-Cola Co. hired, according to an article in the New York Times. Other clients over the years included Ralston Purina, Minute Maid, Six Flags Over Georgia, the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlanta Flames, Anheuser-Busch and former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, for whom the firm ran his first senatorial campaign.

McDonald rose to the top of the advertising world by being an instinctive marketer who could “pull the right people together,” said Keith Green, who McDonald hired in 1972.

“Mike made the Atlanta advertising community,” said Green. “It isn’t just that Mike created the meteor of Atlanta advertising. He created the universe through which it soared.”

His journey from Madison Avenue led to many memorable moments, said his daughter Tricia McDonald Meyer. A trip to California in the 60s stands out. “We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel and stayed in a cabana. It really was something that was right out of ‘Mad Men.’ ” Her father was negotiating a contract with a singer lending his name to the Minute Maid brand. She remembered a “quiet, gentle and very welcoming gentleman,” but she did not know he was an international star: Bing Crosby. She was more impressed with his daughter Mary Frances, with whom she had a tea party while her father worked with Crosby.

“She later was the one who shot J.R.,” said Meyer, referring to the role Mary Frances Crosby played on the smash hit “Dallas.”

Michael George McDonald, 84, died at home Feb. 2, after a yearlong bout with cancer.

McDonald was born Oct. 3, 1931 to the late Catherine O’Hagan and Daniel McDonald. The oldest of seven, he loved and looked out for his younger siblings, and he was proud of his Irish heritage, said his daughter. McDonald graduated from Power Memorial High School and attended NYU and Fordham.

He married Joan Wheatley McDonald in 1956.

After working in New York several years, he moved his wife and three daughters to Atlanta in 1968.

There, he was like an “old-fashioned Sun King,” said Green, attracting top talent and telling them “you have to read the New York Times every day of your life.” Among those was Ralph McGill, Jr., son of the late editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution.

The agency won several CLIO awards, the ad industry’s most prestigious honor. McDonald and team worked on campaigns including the “Tillie the All-Time Teller” and helped name “The Great American Scream Machine” at Six Flags Over Georgia.

An avid reader who was taking literature classes at Georgia State University into his 80s, McDonald loved to collect antiques, particularly clocks. His great ideas came to him at all hours, his wife, Joan McDonald, said.

Maureen McDonald Pierce said she was holding her father’s hand one evening before he died.

“He said, ‘You know whom I’m most thankful for?’, and I said ‘no, who?’ And he said, ‘the Apostle Paul. He was lost and then found.’ And I said ‘Are you found?’ And he said ‘yes.’ I know he’s at peace, healthy and restored,” said Maureen.

His wife said she is waiting for McDonald to create an ad from Heaven. “We need to sell Heaven on Earth, because we sure need it here,” said Joan McDonald.

In addition to his wife and daughters Tricia McDonald Meyer, of Smyrna, and Maureen McDonald Pierce, of Marietta, McDonald is survived by a third daughter, Erin McDonald, of West Palm Beach, Fla;three grandchildren; brothers Kevin McDonald, John McDonald and Dan McDonald; and sisters Margaret Carousso and Kathleen Wehlitz. A fourth brother, Donald, preceded him in death.

A memorial service is scheduled for Monday, Feb.22, 2016 at 12:30 p.m. at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church, Atlanta.