Though respectfully addressed as “Dr. McGregor,” he prefers to be called “Mac.” Friend to everyman and now president emeritus of the North Miami Campus, Donald J. McGregor, J.D. came to Johnson & Wales by chance and stayed for 40 years, guided by intellect and common sense.
“We grew up here at Johnson & Wales together,” Chairman of the Board John Yena ’06 Hon. recalls. “He always had the big jobs. He was the first financial aid officer and our chief financial officer when we never even had that title. He created a campus out of an idea in Florida.”
From Pawtucket, R.I., with a degree in accounting, McGregor brushed off thoughts of a career in academia when a school friend attending Johnson & Wales Junior College of Business suggested McGregor apply to teach. Spotting the Johnson & Wales sign in Providence months later, he thought, “What have I got to lose.”
He was hired part time to teach accounting and finance. By year’s end in 1968 he was offered a full-time contract. Recognizing the need for an advanced degree, McGregor earned a doctor of law, becoming a member of the Rhode Island Bar in 1975. Already a sought-after teacher, he added the duties of director of financial aid. With the death of Ralph DiStefano, McGregor stepped into his role as bursar. It cemented his commitment to the administrative side of Johnson & Wales College at a pivotal time.
Hospitality and culinary programs were new and growing, veterans programs were educating thousands and student accounts were still kept on handwritten ledgers. Yena and McGregor developed the first budget system. In the next two decades, McGregor added structures and gathered talent.
“He was one of the first guys who broke that glass ceiling on gender bias,” Yena says. "Who’s smart enough to do this?’ was all he asked.” Yena lists “incredible assets” McGregor brought into the fold in Providence: Carol Lindberg ’94, Diane D’Ambra ’05 and Fran Harnois ’74 into human resources; Bill McArdle and Robin Krakowsky ’88, ’08 Ed.D., into accounting.
“He’s a big believer in giving people an opportunity,” says D’Ambra.
In the late 1980s Morris Gaebe ’98 Hon. decided Florida was a good place to establish a campus — the university’s biggest risk and investment to date. Asked to head it, “In typical Mac fashion, he said, ‘If you think I can do it and you really need me, I’ll go,’” Yena says. It was not without personal sacrifice, moving family from a state they loved.
In 1992 the university purchased an old hospital in North Miami. McGregor headed south. Loreen Chant ’89, now his successor as campus president, was one of his first hires, as registrar. JWU administrators Richard Kosh, Ph.D. and Manuel Pimentel ’08 Hon. followed to handle admissions and academics. “It was like the wild west,” Yena says. “We were nobody in Miami and they went down there and did a wonderful job.”
McGregor is legendary as an accessible president. “A lover of people. A calming presence. The smartest man I ever met,” say colleagues. Patient, loyal, and king of trivia. left to right: Donald McGregor in 1973 as JWU’s first financial aid officer; McGregor with North Miami students in late ’90s; McGregor and Morris Gaebe at a past commencement; McGregor today
Still, he credits others for his achievements. “You can’t do it alone. You need people you can rely on to do the work and get it right.” He lists “assets” nurtured in North Miami. “These are the folks that make me look good. Without them it would never happen.
“The example he sets and the culture he established for the university is one of genuine care for students first and foremost,” says Chant. With three children, Wendy, Scott and Kimberly, and seven grandchildren, McGregor looks ahead to traveling with his wife, Linda, enjoying life, and a mudbath in a foreign land. “It’s been a glorious ride,” he says.
“You subtract him from the history of Johnson & Wales, and it would be a different and much less better place today,” Yena says. Calling registration and graduation his happiest times as president, Commencement 2009 will mark his last day. “Now we’re the old guard,” McGregor says. “It’s time to move on and let the younger guard bring Johnson & Wales University to places we’ve only dreamed of.”