Angus MacDonald, longtime MIT Corporation member, dies at 86

Alumnus’ wide-ranging MIT interests included neuroscience, aeronautics, political science and the arts and humanities.


Angus Nathaniel MacDonald ’46, SM ’47, who served on the MIT Corporation for most of the last four decades, died at his home in Greenwich, Conn., on Sunday, July 8. He was 86.

The cause of death was complications of lymphoma, his family said.

MacDonald was president of Angus MacDonald & Company, a corporate merger and acquisition firm he founded in 1970. He first joined the MIT Corporation, the Institute’s board of trustees, in 1973, and was a life member emeritus of the Corporation since 2001.

“Angus was infused with an optimistic and friendly creative spirit, which made him so likeable and effective,” said Dana G. Mead, chairman of the MIT Corporation from 2003 to 2010. “He was a dear friend whose lively mind and legendary devotion to MIT were an important part of our lives for decades. We will miss him so very much.”

During his time on the MIT Corporation, MacDonald served on a wide range of visiting committees, including aeronautics and astronautics (which he chaired from 1975 to 1978); development; humanities; political science (which he chaired from 1986 to 1987 and from 1988 to 1994); and Whitaker College (which he chaired from 1990 to 1994). Most recently, he had taken a keen interest in neuroscience, chairing the Corporation’s visiting committee on brain and cognitive sciences (BCS) from 1994 to 2000.

“Angus MacDonald was a longstanding friend and benefactor of BCS,” said Mriganka Sur, the Paul E. Newton Professor of Neuroscience. “As a member and then chair of the department’s visiting committee for many years, he helped shape the department’s vision of studying the brain and mind at multiple levels of analysis. He and his wife, Monaise, established a fund to help the educational activities of the department, and the Angus MacDonald Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching is the department’s principal recognition of outstanding teaching by our faculty. We are deeply saddened to hear of his passing.”

“Angus MacDonald’s passion for promoting mergers extended beyond the financial world to his work in promoting research on the brain,” added Ann Graybiel, Institute Professor in BCS. “To this end, he was influential at MIT as a Corporation member in promoting the merging of new techniques for studying the brain with key issues in cognitive neuroscience, which he fostered through tireless fundraising and active leadership as chairman of the brain and cognitive sciences visiting committee.”

MacDonald received the Bronze Beaver Award, the MIT Alumni Association’s highest honor, in 1970, and was named a Founding Life Sustaining Fellow in 1979.
He served as president of the MIT Alumni Association in 1981-82, and later served on the Board of Associates of both the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. MacDonald was a founding member of the MIT Council for the Arts.

Beyond the Institute, MacDonald served on President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on the Arts and Humanities from 1981 to 1982, and was a past president of the Toynbee Prize Foundation and a founder of the Festival Orchestra Society of New York.

MacDonald was born Jan. 13, 1926, in Baltimore. In 1942, at age 16, he signed up with the Naval Air Force, but was deferred and sent to take courses at Harvard University for a year. He went on to earn his SB in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT in 1946 and his SM in mechanical engineering in 1947.

“My great love as a kid was rockets and going to the moon,” MacDonald told Technology Review in 2001. “I was president of the [MIT] Rocket Society in 1944 and wanted to write a novel about our work and take it to MIT to be published.”

After graduating, MacDonald first worked as a staff engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, researching the use of nuclear energy in aircraft propulsion. He later joined J.H. Whitney & Co., the first venture capital fund, before becoming a partner at Braxton & Company, where he worked from 1954 to 1970, gaining expertise on corporate mergers and acquisitions before founding his own company.

An aspiring novelist since his undergraduate days, MacDonald ultimately authored three books: Middle Ground (1971), At Fault (2000) and Ultimate Concerns and Other Vanities: The Legacy of Ledgerock, a Greenwich Oasis (2003). At Fault, a novel about an aircraft that crashes into a Miami high-rise, was optioned as a movie, but the project was shelved after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

MacDonald is survived by his wife of 47 years, Monaise MacDonald of Greenwich, Conn.; three daughters, Laurel MacDonald of Sag Harbor, N.Y., Susan Nobel of Santa Barbara, Calif., and Robin Curtis of Wilton, Conn.; three grandchildren; and a stepson, John Richards of Mystic, Conn.

There will be no public memorial services. Gifts and donations in memory of MacDonald may be made online to Graybiel's lab in the McGovern Institute; checks may be mailed to Bonny Kellermann, MIT Office of Memorial Gifts, 600 Memorial Drive, Room W98-500, Cambridge MA 02139. Please indicate that your gift is in memory of Angus N. MacDonald '46. The family would prefer not to receive flowers or other gifts directly.


Topics: Alumni/ae, Brain and cognitive sciences, MIT Corporation, Obituaries

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