“My father always prepared me for the day that he would die. As soon as I became a young man we talked about it, and at first I was in a lot of shock because I was always wondering how it was going to happen. Now it’s happened and I’ve lost the best friend I will ever have,” said Conor McDonald, 29, during an interview with the Irish Voice, IrishCentral's sister publication, on Tuesday.
Conor was keen to talk about his legendary father Steven McDonald, the NYPD detective who was paralyzed from the neck down by a teenage shooter in 1986, and afterwards became a New York treasure admired around the world for his message of faith, forgiveness and tolerance.
He was also deeply moved as was his mother Patti Ann by President-elect Donald Trump reaching out to Steven as he lay in hospital and he also spoke to the family.
McDonald lived 25 years longer than medical experts thought he would after the shooting, but on Tuesday, January 10, he passed away after suffering a heart attack the previous Friday. He was 59 years old.
Tens of thousands of mourners paid their respects to the McDonald family during a two-day wake at St. Agnes in Rockville Centre, and a funeral Mass on Friday morning celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that was aired live by the local TV networks, such was the scope of public adulation for McDonald. Among the attendees were David Letterman, a close friend of the family, members of the New York Rangers hockey team, every top New York City public official led by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and police officers from around the world.
Conor and Patti-Ann have been “overwhelmed” by the support they’ve received from Steven’s friends and admirers including President-elect Donald Trump, who called the family after he heard McDonald was hospitalized.
Patti-Ann McDonald told the Irish Voice that Trump and Steven were long-time friends who used to meet at New York Rangers games at Madison Square Garden – the McDonalds are passionate Rangers fans and the team hosted a huge tribute to Steven before their game on Friday night.
“Donald Trump never failed to come over to talk to Steven when we would see him at the games, and tell him that he was a New York hero. There would be other people of note that we would see too, but most of them didn’t talk to Steven. That was never the case with Donald Trump,” Patti-Ann said.
When Trump called the McDonalds while Steven was in the hospital, he offered further words of encouragement. “We held the phone to Steven’s ear, and Donald Trump told him to stay strong, that if anyone could pull through it would be Steven. He told him he was hoping and praying for him, and told Conor and I that if there was anything we needed to let him know. It was very nice,” Patti-Ann said. (After Steven passed, Trump tweeted, “A beautiful funeral today for a real NYC hero, Detective Steven McDonald. Our law enforcement community has my complete and total support.”)
A beautiful funeral today for a real NYC hero, Detective Steven McDonald. Our law enforcement community has my complete and total support.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017
The constant stream of well-wishers who loved Steven has been “unbelievable to see and experience,” Patti-Ann said.
“We are just so, so thankful. We have felt so much love. We can’t thank people enough for what they’ve done for Steven. And the NYPD – we always knew they were family, but I can’t describe how much they’ve been there for us.”
Steven, Patti-Ann says, never failed to see the bright side, no matter how he was feeling. “He got up every single day. And you know, there were many days that were tough. But he still pulled through.”
Two years ago Steven was hospitalized with septic shock and the family prepared for the worst. “He always pulled through, and he did that time too,” Patti-Ann said. “I was hoping and praying that he would survive the heart attack, but I’m grateful that we had the chance to pray with him in the hospital. He felt our presence, that I know.”
Conor McDonald followed in his father’s proud footsteps and joined the NYPD not long after graduating from Boston College eight years ago. He’s received two promotions and is a sergeant now, and his father expressed pride every single day.
“I heard it from him all the time. He was my biggest supporter. With all that he’s had to overcome, my dad was there for me non-stop,” Conor said.
Their last conversation, Conor revealed, was typical. Father and son spoke several times a day and prayed together daily. On Friday morning, hours before the heart attack, Conor was home and said prayers with his dad at 4:30 a.m. – a regular occurrence given Conor’s early NYPD shift.
“He had all his prayers set up. Then I gave him a big kiss as usual and left. So he called me when I got to the train station and asked me what the weather was like and I said, ‘Dad, it’s snowing! And I love you very much. I love you.’ That was our last conversation,” Conor said.
The only child of Steven and Patti-Ann, Conor says he always knew that his father was severely injured and had far outlived expectations. And the faith that Steven lived his life by is what will carry him and his mother through the difficult days ahead.
“I feel like my dad is not suffering anymore,” Conor said. “I felt him the whole time when we were at his bedside. I prayed over him and could feel his presence. He was preparing me.”
The McDonalds are particularly grateful for the constant embrace the Irish American community offered to Steven.
“His Irish heritage meant so much to him. All the honors he received through the years. It was so important,” Patti-Ann said.
“Being Irish meant the world to Steven.”