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The Passing of Donald MacKinnon

04/05/2022, 5:00pm EDT
By Jim Gunning

Anyone who spent time with him clearly remembers Don MacKinnon, who died February 6 at the age of eighty-seven. They refer to him as Big Don, and they can sit and tell stories about him for days. Tough and imposing, he was a competitor who loved to take a chance and put himself on the line, take the measure of the other guy and win. He loved any game of chance with a payoff - cards, fishing, horseshoes, pool, darts, scratch tickets and Keno. Big Don was savvy, and thrifty, eventually building himself a string of apartment buildings from Beacon Street in Brookline down to Easton. He was a force of nature and when he was in the room, you knew it. Big and thick-shouldered, his handshake hurt until you learned to be ready for it. He was a very happy man, with a huge heart and a love for life. Nothing made him happier than bringing family and friends together on the Cape, and he did everything he could to make it happen. He loved to help friends, family and strangers, and had a way about him that connected with everyone he met. He was tall, with bright blue eyes, and a sharp dresser when he had to be, though he much preferred his old khakis and a wrinkled short sleeve button down. Black coffee, one sugar, was always at hand.

Donald John MacKinnon, Jr. was born on August 21, 1934 in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Olive Andrews and Donald John MacKinnon. A gifted athlete in basketball and track, he was a true standout in football for Stoughton High School and Bridgton Academy. Offered scholarships to the Universities of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, he opted instead for the Marine Corps. While in the Marines, he played kicker and end (offensive and defensive) for the Naval Air Station Quonset Point, and was named to the Navy’s 1957 All-Sea team. In his 70’s, he played softball in the National Senior Games. He was a carpenter, becoming a leading figure on large construction projects in New England and nationally, and retired as a Senior Vice President of Component Assembly Systems. In his retirement he was an advisor to the apprentice program for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters.

He married Anita Elizabeth Ivaldi in 1957 and they had six children together. When the Boston Patriots, Green Bay Packers and New York Football Giants came calling, he turned them all down. He had five children at home already, and football wasn’t in the cards. The family split time between Easton and Cotuit, where a lot of the memories were made.

 

Donald J. MacKinnon

 

On any sunny Cotuit morning, Big Don’s house overflowed. So much so that he bought the house next door for more space. A casual census would find six kids and most of their friends loudly and methodically working through the bottomless jar of doughnuts kept in the kitchen, watched by the house cats and occasional pony that wandered inside. The yard was full with two horses, the pony, a dozen barn cats, a rabbit, a goat, and Fritz, Schultz and Kyra, mythical German shepherds. There was an ever-changing car collection, a barn full of misplaced street signs and more friends of the kids. There were fruit trees, a swing shaped like a Heinz pickle and depending on the time of day, the remnants of last night’s party, or the makings of tonight’s. The family woke one morning to find the powder room occupied by two pigs, brought home by Don late the night before. The kids will tell you that Don gave them more chores than any other kids at any other household in America. There were lawns to mow, holes to dig, porches to paint, roofs to shingle, gravel to shovel, concrete to pour, beds to weed, beans to shell, bushes to prune, yards to rake, quahogs to dig, laundromat change to sort, stalls to muck, wiring to install, patios to lay. He had an extraordinary appetite for fresh vegetables, and kept a huge garden into his eighties.

His shirt pocket was always full of notes, pens, receipts, lottery tickets, a comb, a deck of cards and a few pieces of candy. He carried a big wad of cash, you never knew when he’d find another deal on a classic car, a boat, ponies for his daughters, or heavy equipment for his teenage sons to dig up the backyard. His car overflowed with vegetables to give away, roadside finds, vitamins, mixed nuts, as-seen-on-TV sunglasses and baseball hats. He loved animals and was famous for catching stray cats and bringing them home. You never knew where a car ride with Don would take you, but you could bet on two things: stopping for ice cream, and getting stuck for a few hours at the barn in Easton. The barn was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures for someone who knew how to work with his hands. It was stuffed full with tractors, boats, parts, good tools, an astonishing amount of old mail, and classic cars ranging from the perfectly restored to the downright dangerous to the recently totaled.

Don’s second marriage was to Priscilla Morse of Fairfield, CT. They resided in Sandwich and Bourne, MA. In 2018, Don moved to Hingham, closer to kids and grandkids, where his devoted companion was Ty, a cat who thought he was human and was pretty sure he could take Don on the gridiron.

The Old Salt has reported for duty that takes him away from us for now. What greater honor, when a man moves forward, he leaves behind in each of us the best of what he was. A defender, protector, supporter, victor, a warrior, the last of the breed from an era when the football helmets were made of leather and men were made of steel. He wouldn’t hand it to you, but expected you to work for it and make it your own.

He is survived by Matthew and Linda MacKinnon of Bethlehem, NH; DJ and Leslie MacKinnon of Hingham, MA; Laurie MacKinnon-Fallon and John Fallon of Easton, MA; Linda Blue and Robert Benjaminsen of Annapolis, MD; Leslie MacKinnon of Dorchester, MA; and Liza MacKinnon and Brian Knies of Hingham, MA; Beverly (sister) and Ralph Giardini of Cotuit, MA Don’s grandchildren are Taylor MacKinnon Howell and Andrew Howell, and great- granddaughter Avery Howell, of Hingham, MA; Alec MacKinnon of Allston, MA; McKay Skye Blue of Jacksonville, FL; Lila Blue of Annapolis, MD; and Maisie Knies and Lachlan Knies of Hingham, MA.

A private service for family will be held in June.

A celebration of Don’s life will be held on Sunday, August 21st at 2pm at 910 Main St. Cotuit, MA.

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