She watched some of the children enter the business, and in the 1990s designed a transfer of power. Robby MacPherson, her eldest son, took over operations, while sister Penny Omnès ran the marketing side, Scott MacPherson looked after the U.S., and Bill Dix Jr. oversaw the international business.
Even after giving up the chief operating role to Robby in the late 1990s, she insisted: “I’m still the CEO and I have the right to go into anything I want.”
People who dealt with her were struck by the combination of physical presence and a personality that exuded optimism – balanced by hard-nosed decision-making. She was known for her clear blue eyes, sparkly-framed glasses, her toy poodles, Winky and Dizzy, and a trademark line, “You got that right,” which became the title of her authorized biography.
“She was one of the best networkers I ever met,” says Darcy Rezac, a former Board of Trade managing director who sat on the BC Bearings board. “I’ve never seen her stuck or apprehensive about talking to anybody.”
Always civic-minded, she was one of the original investors in the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team in 1974, and even when she ended her involvement, she remained a fan.
She always seemed bigger than the company she owned, which grew in sales to more than $200-million a year – a nice size in Canada, but not big on the world scene. Yet it found a sweet spot as a distributor for big bearings companies in resource-rich regions.
After decades of leadership by her and Robby, the family turned the president’s job over to an outsider. Then in December, 2009, Genuine Parts Co. of Atlanta offered to buy most of the North American business of BC Bearing. The family agreed, while retaining the Latin American business and their real-estate holdings, as well as Norcan Fluid Power, a provider of hydraulic and pneumatic components. The sale was a wrenching decision, says Mr. Rezac, but the timing was right.
As early as six years ago, Mrs. McDonald knew she had cancer, says daughter Penny Omnès, but she continued to squeeze as much as she could out of life: “She was always up.”
That was evident on her 90th birthday, which Mrs. McDonald and her family planned meticulously, to the extent of flying in flowered leis from Hawaii for the guests. “She made sure she had one last blast,” her daughter says.
She leaves eight children, as well as 27 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren. A crowd of 500 came out for the funeral service, according to her daughter, and 300 attended the reception that followed.
When Mrs. McDonald died, Dal Richards lost a friend. It would be the end of the great party that started at the Panorama Roof. His strongest recollection was how she threw herself into planning each event, right to the end. “She was a determined woman,” he says.