The death has occurred of Robert McDonnell
McDonnell, Robert, M.Eng., P.Eng. With great sadness, we announce the passing of Robert McDonnell. Born in Ireland in 1930, he made Canada his chosen land but never relinquished the pull of the old country. He remained in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, until the end with the love of his life, Brigid Teresa ("Breeda", nee Bowen).
Having survived a difficult but heroic childhood after the death of his mother when he was eight, Bob decided to pursue an engineering education after observing the site engineer on the road crew he worked with at age fourteen. He finished secondary school by correspondence while working (and living) in a shop in Galway. He won increasingly large scholarships and eventually a B.Eng (with 1st Class Honours) from the University of Ireland (Galway campus) in 1953. He followed this with a M.Eng. in Civil Engineering (Geotechnical) from Nova Scotia Technical College (now Dalhousie Engineering) in 1965.
Bob emigrated to Canada in June 1957 to take up a job with the NS Dept. of Highways, after deciding between job offers in Nova Scotia and Uganda. Breeda followed him in October, and they were married in Antigonish two days after her arrival there. Bob planned the whole wedding himself. In 1957. Their wedding story is epic and takes about thirty minutes to tell properly.
Bob pursued two careers simultaneously over his lifetime – as a consulting civil engineer and as a professor of engineering at St. Francis Xavier University. It is difficult to travel or work in Nova Scotia and PEI without encountering structures designed by him – in Antigonish alone, these include Nicholson Tower, the Philatelic Centre, St. Martha's Regional Hospital, and the Antigonish Arena. He designed over thirty highway bridges during his career. His 31-year tenure at StFX means we still have alumni dropping by to pay their respects. I’m his son and I’m one of them.
Bob had a fierce intellect. He held his beliefs strongly and loved defending them through spirited discourse. He also had an uncanny ability to turn the topic of any conversation to Ireland.
Bob was a lifelong member of Engineers Nova Scotia and served in various capacities with them, including chair of the committee which set up their mentorship programme. He received an Honorary Life Membership from ENS in 1999. He was a fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and a member of both the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Structural Engineers.
He is survived by his loving wife Breeda, his siblings Gilbert (Mary) and Helen (Joseph), and his sons Seán (Rebecca) and Darach (Wanda), and grandchildren Adam and Emma Wootton, and Fionn and Conn McDonnell. He is predeceased by his parents, Vincent and Helen (Gilmartin); his siblings, Vincent and Susan; and his daughter, Siobhán (Wootton).
Cremation has taken place. Funeral Mass will be held Saturday in St. Ninian Cathedral at 2pm (6pm Irish time). Due to COVID restrictions, space is limited. The funeral will be viewable live on the funeral home website. Burial in the parish cemetery.
In Memoriam, donations to L’Arche Antigonish or the Antigonish Food Bank appreciated.
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of C.L Curry Funeral Home, Antigonish. Online condolences: www.clcurry.com.
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