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John F. 'Jack' McDonnell, retired Air Force officer and father of Va. governor, dies at 94

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 8:09 PM

John F. "Jack" McDonnell, 94, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and intelligence specialist who presided over the strict Catholic upbringing of his five children, who included future Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), died Nov. 2 at Burke Health and Rehabilitation Center in Fairfax County. He had Alzheimer's disease.

Jack McDonnell died on Election Day, a year after his son's easy election victory.

The Republican governor, a former Virginia attorney general, campaigned this year for GOP congressional candidates in Virginia and elsewhere, but he was not on Tuesday's ballot.

In one of his father's last public appearances, the new governor knelt at his Jan. 16 inauguration before his father's wheelchair and kissed his forehead. Although his father was not involved in politics, the governor credited his father's military service as a source of inspiration throughout his public service career.

Col. McDonnell, the son of Irish immigrants, was a World War II veteran who served in the Army Air Forces and participated in bombing sorties into Nazi-occupied Europe.

After the war, he worked for the Office of Special Investigations, an investigative service that focuses on criminal investigations and counterintelligence services.

He retired from the Air Force in 1964 and then spent about 15 years with the old U.S. Naval Investigative Service, which did security and counterintelligence work for the Navy Department.

In an 2009 interview, the governor described his father as "a tough, Boston Irish-Catholic Air Force officer who wasn't afraid to use the belt."

Col. McDonnell raised his family in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County, where he taught religious education classes at Good Shepherd Catholic Church and coached softball and Little League baseball.

He was a member of the Governor's Board of Visitors of Mount Vernon, the historic estate of George Washington.

John Francis McDonnell was born in Peabody, Mass. As a young man, he worked for the city of Peabody and caddied at the local country club.

He was a graduate of the University of Maryland, where he also received a master's degree in education.

His wife, the former Emma Meiller, whom he married in 1951, died in 1994. Besides the governor, of Richmond, survivors include four other children, Eileen Reinaman of Stafford, Va., Nancy Naisawald of Lynchburg, Va., Maureen Uncapher of Chesapeake, Va., and Air Force Col. Kenneth McDonnell, a physician who is a medical group commander stationed in Lakenheath, England; and 15 grandchildren.

His daughter Eileen described her father as assertively patriotic. She said he ordered his children to stand to attention when the "Star-Spangled Banner" was played before sporting events. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he dusted off his uniform, saying he was ready to service if called back to duty.

bernsteina@washpost.com The Associated Press contributed to this story

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