top of page

Working for Judy – A Remembrance of Judy McDonald

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

It is with heartfelt sadness that I note the passing of Judy McDonald, who was a leading light in San Diego philanthropy and civic life for so many years.

For those San Diegans who were not lucky enough to meet her, it is likely you benefited from her work, because she touched so many lives – directly and indirectly. If you care about our schools, the arts, children, health, housing, employment, or many other important causes, Judy either served on a board, a committee, or ran a foundation that made a difference in that area.

In philanthropy, her long service and leadership of the Parker Foundation is just one example of her commitment and her long-time support. There, she represented the foundation effectively to help meet a broad spectrum of need in the community. Working with the Jacobs Center she helped improve the lives of the residents of San Diego’s Diamond neighborhoods. She worked with governmental agencies, nonprofits, philanthropists, and businesses, just to name a few.

Judy was able to have such a positive effect on everything she touched because she understood that to accomplish something she had to develop personal, trusting relationships with others. This enabled her to learn from their experience and learn what people needed, what was getting in the way, and what had to change in order to succeed. These relationships are especially important when working with people who have had very different life experiences. Trust in this environment does not come naturally, but Judy took the time to develop these relationships across the community over many years, which is why she was so successful.

She engaged with people, listened, and learned from them. Across the community she became a “go to” person so that others could learn what the needs were and how to meet those needs. Because of her long experience and involvement, she developed her own views and ideas about what was necessary and what would work, and as many of us experienced, she was not shy about sharing those opinions. But people deeply respected her views because they were based on knowledge, experience, and care.

Judy’s involvement with an organization or a project went beyond just making grants. She would become personally involved in whatever cause she was working on, and she did all she could to help. She was not only a funder to her grantees, she would become their advocate and even their personal fundraiser.

One of her greatest talents was the ability to bring people together to address issues. She understood the essential need of collaboration to achieve major goals and necessary positive change. This was the reason for her work back in the 70s to create San Diego Grantmakers (now Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties) to bring funders together to improve the community. It’s still going strong.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Judy was that she didn’t just cheer from the sidelines. She was willing to invest her time and energy and take a leadership role on a project or initiative if that’s what was needed. I remember visiting once with the CEO of a nonprofit on whose board she served. I told the CEO that I was “working on a project for Judy,” and he turned to me and said, proudly, “We all work for Judy.”

As we consider Judy’s extraordinary legacy, as one of the lucky people who knew Judy, I will continue to work for her and all that she stood for.


About the author: Peter Ellsworth serves as The Conrad Prebys Foundation's board treasurer. Among his many accomplishments, Peter is the former president and CEO of Sharp Health Care.

The video was lovingly produced by the young talents in the Biz Pod program at the David's Harp Foundation, documents Judy's touching funeral service. For more information please visit:

David’s Harp Foundation

320 views4 comments
bottom of page