Philanthropist George T. McDonald, a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has died after his battle with lung cancer.
As Founder and President of the Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides thousands of individuals with the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration to rebuild their lives, Commissioner McDonald was a tireless advocate for the homeless and brought great humanity, passion, and dedication to his mission. As a commissioner, he was always challenging us to think critically about how infrastructure can work for the benefit of the traveling public. His enthusiastic and always sincere presence at our meetings will most certainly be missed.
George was famously inspired to start the Doe Fund after a homeless woman named Mama Doe died of neglect on a park bench after being evicted from Grand Central Terminal on a freezing Christmas Day in 1985. As a garment district executive at the time, he would regularly volunteer to feed hundreds of homeless individuals in the area. George saw that effort was not enough. And so, he founded The Doe Fund. He and his wife Harriet Karr, who survives him, initially ran the organization out of their home with a mission of finding employment for indigent New Yorkers. Together they launched the Fund’s signature “Ready, Willing & Able” program, a holistic reentry model for those with histories of incarceration. The program provided access to immediate paid employment, career training, housing, and robust social services.
George built The Doe Fund into a $65 million nonprofit that employs more than 500 people, over 40% of whom are formerly homeless and incarcerated graduates of “Ready, Willing & Able.” A 2010 Harvard study concluded that “Ready, Willing & Able” reduces the chance of recidivism among program graduates by 62%.
The Doe Fund was an early pioneer of the now-ubiquitous social-enterprise model. The Fund operated revenue-generating businesses that have yielded over $1 billion in revenue to sustain its transformative programs. And its programs have been replicated in communities throughout the country.
George’s work earned him a reputation as one of the foremost advocates for the homeless and a champion of bipartisan criminal justice reform. He previously served on the Executive Committee of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Work for Success Program. And in 2014, he was appointed to serve on the New York State Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration.
George also presided over The Doe Fund’s development of groundbreaking affordable and supportive housing. The organization now has over one million square feet of housing—including more than 1,000 permanent units and 874 transitional beds across 15 residences—open, under construction, and in development.
Over the course of his career, George received numerous distinctions, including the Tikkun Olam Award presented by Central Synagogue for “repairing the world by repairing countless human lives,” the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s William E. Simon Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship, an honorary doctorate from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a Liberty Medal from The New York Post, and the St. John’s University Spirit of Service Award.
But beyond all the accolades, we knew him as a passionate Commissioner and a friend. Tomorrow, Port Authority flags at our facilities will be flown at half-staff in honor of George’s memory and the thousands of lives that were changed by the organization he built.