February 25, 2003
ISSUED BY:   PG&E Corporation, 800-PGE-NEWS

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(San Francisco) - Lawrence R. McDonnell, former Pacific Gas and Electric Company vice president of public relations and World War II veteran, died Friday, February 14, 2003, following a short illness. He was 87.

McDonnell was a seasoned newsman when he joined Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1953, having worked for seven years as a reporter and copy editor for the San Francisco Examiner, and as a contributing editor to the San Francisco Archdiocesan newspaper, The Monitor. For five years before World War II, he worked in his native Pennsylvania as a reporter and editor on the staff of the Scranton Tribune.

In 1942, McDonnell entered the U.S. Navy. Commissioned as an ensign, he was assigned to the West Coast Armed Guard Training Center in San Francisco. He saw wartime sea duty as a gunnery officer commanding an armed guard aboard tankers in the Pacific theater, including action off Okinawa and the Philippines. After the war, he remained active in the Naval Reserve, commanding the 12th Naval District Intelligence Division and retiring as a Captain.

Named Pacific Gas and Electric Company news director in 1965 and manager of the Public Information Department in 1976, McDonnell was elected vice president - public relations in 1978. He retired in 1980.

For 12 years, McDonnell edited one of the most widely circulated publications in the West, PG&E Progress, a compendium of news, history, recipes and light humor that customers received with their PG&E bills.

McDonnell is remembered by those who worked with him for his basso profundo speaking voice and his taste for ice cream, but mainly for the remarkable integrity and reassuring calm with which he met every crisis. At the time of his retirement, a colleague wrote, "He's been the best chaplain this department ever had."

Active in a wide range of national and Bay Area community organizations, McDonnell served on the Corporate Board of Saint Mary's Hospital and Medical Center in San Francisco, the Board of Regents of St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, the San Francisco Archdiocesan Medical-Moral Board, and the Advisory Committee for Sisters of Mercy Province. He also served on the board of trustees of Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, and on the boards of the National Council of Christians and Jews, the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men, the Hanna Boys Center, and Mount Saint Joseph's Home for Girls.

He was a past director of the Bay Area chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, a past president of the Association of Catholic Newsmen, a former director of the San Francisco Press Club and a member of several utility industry public relations committees.

McDonnell also belonged to the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. The Superior General of the Maryknoll Order of Priests and the President of Mount St. Mary's College recently presented McDonnell with the Bishop James Walsh Award for "outstanding service to his church and college."

Born in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, he earned a degree in social science from Mount Saint Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1937. McDonnell was a 35-year resident of Palo Alto and a longtime parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Church before moving recently to Redwood City.

Surviving are his wife, Ellen, and two daughters, Dr. Lorraine McDonnell and her husband Dr. Stephen Weatherford, and Eileen Lewis and her husband Jeffrey Lewis, and grandsons Jason Lewis and Brendan Lewis. He is survived by two sisters, Margaret Mary Herbster and Shirley Frances McDonnell of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, and a brother, Philip Adrian McDonnell and his wife Catherine of Atherton, California, as well as nine nieces and nephews and 13 grand nieces and grand nephews. McDonnell was preceded in death by his first wife, Lorraine Selleck, and by two children from his marriage with Ellen, Clare McDonnell Gilmore and young son Richard McDonnell.

A service is planned for March 2 at 3:00 PM at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751 Waverly Street in Palo Alto, California. A reception will follow.

Contributions may be made to:

  • Mount St. Mary's College, Office of Development, Emmitsburg, Maryland, 21727;
  • the Sisters of Mercy Marian Care Center, 2300 Adaline Drive, Burlingame, California, 94010; and
  • the Deaf Student Fund, St. Patrick's Seminary, 320 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California, 94025.