James F. McDonald, retired ATF agent

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James F. McDonald, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, died Sunday from complications of Alzheimer's disease at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The former longtime Bel Air resident was 76.

The son of a machinist and a schoolteacher, James Franklin McDonald was born and raised in Chester, W.Va., where he graduated in 1953 from Chester High School.

He served in the Army for two years in Germany with the 86th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Infantry Division. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1962 in business administration from Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.

Mr. McDonald began his 38-year career with the ATF in Newark, N.J., and then transferred to the Baltimore district office in 1971.

"He said he worked for 'bullets, butts and booze,'" said a daughter, Michele McDonald of Hamilton. "He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the bureau, its founder Eliot Ness of 'The Untouchables,' and the regulation of the importation, manufacturing and distribution of alcohol."

Ms. McDonald said her father initially worked in enforcement and participated in numerous raids "but a bullet through his windshield when his car was parked in front of his home prompted his wife to insist that he be reassigned to regulatory investigations."

This work, she explained, took Mr. McDonald not only to breweries and distilleries but also to commercial users of alcohol like McCormick and Co., from which he'd return with the "unmistakable scent of pepper."

He retired in 2000.

Mr. McDonald had served as a shop steward and legislative coordinator for Chapter 89 of the National Treasury Employees Union. He was a member of the Jaycees, American Legion Post 39 in Harford County, and the Moose.

He enjoyed golfing and hunting.

His wife of 36 years, the former Marilyn J. Stearn, died in 2003.

Mr. McDonald was a communicant of St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church, 141 N. Hickory Ave., Bel Air, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Thursday.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. McDonald is survived by another daughter, Melissa Engels of Marietta, Ga.; a sister, Margaret Milby of New Cumberland, W.Va.; and a grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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