Arlington Heights years 'shaped' VA chief nominee
Robert McDonald, the man nominated by President Barack Obama to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, grew up in a staunch Republican family in Arlington Heights, where he was a Boy Scout, star athlete and top student.
If McDonald receives Senate approval, the 61-year-old former Procter & Gamble CEO will have the difficult task of reforming the nation's troubled veterans health care facilities.
In his nomination speech, Obama praised McDonald's integrity and no-nonsense approach, calling him "one of our nation's most accomplished business leaders and managers."
McDonald's parents, Ray and Fro McDonald, are amused that a Democratic president tapped their hard-core Republican son for the job. They said Bob donated to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, is friendly with House Speaker John Boehner and grew up in a politically conservative home where his mom went door-to-door handing out campaign literature for Republican candidates.
Yet the entire McDonald family is deeply proud of the nomination, and say he's the perfect person for the job.
"He'll focus on what is best for the veterans," said his father, Ray, an Army Air Corps veteran who lived in Arlington Heights for more than 30 years before retiring to Indianapolis.
"Bob works hard. He's very interested in people and what he can do for other people."
His mother, Fro, said he'll be guided by his "very deep faith."
"That's what carries him through it. It's not about him, it's about doing for others. That's the most important thing," she said.
"I give (Obama) credit for saying, look, my party's not doing anything, let's get some good blood in here."
Robert McDonald was born in Gary, Ind., the middle child of three. His father was a marketing and advertising executive. His mom, a Cub Scout den mother, took jobs as a preschool bus driver and teaching assistant to help pay for her children's college educations.
The family moved to Arlington Heights in 1961, when Bob was in fourth grade. He attended Westgate School, South and Thomas middle schools and Arlington High School, where he played on the football and baseball teams.
He did some sports writing on the side for the former Arlington Day newspaper, which was acquired in the 1970s by the Daily Herald. He also designed the logo for the entryway of Thomas Middle School, his parents said. The whole family was active in sports, scouting and the Presbyterian church.
"Those were formative years we spent there (in Arlington)," said his brother, John McDonald, now an executive at General Electric in Atlanta. Their younger sister, Sue, is director of media relations at Indiana University.
"If we trace back the things we did, it really shaped us and helped us be where we are today," John McDonald said.
With former U.S. congressman Phil Crane's support, Bob went to the prestigious military academy West Point. He'd dreamed of going there since he was a kid because he loved the Army so much, his father said.
McDonald finished in the top 2 percent of his class at West Point and held the honorable brigade adjutant position, his father said. He became an Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., before taking an entry-level job at Procter & Gamble. He worked his way up to become the CEO, retiring last June.
John McDonald said their close-knit family has full confidence that Bob will make positive changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"When he called me to tell me ... I said, 'Bob, it couldn't have been a better choice,'" said John McDonald, who described his relationship with his brother as both supportive and competitive. "It's about time the president looks at someone with business leadership skills rather than just make political appointments."
Ray and Fro McDonald described Bob, his wife, Diane, and their two children as "just the best kids" who came and helped them find a place to live in Indianapolis.
"They never forget their parents. ... We're very lucky," Ray McDonald said. "We hope we had some influence. We hope we were good examples for him growing up."