When John D MacDonald died in December 1986 his obituary appeared in hundreds of different newspapers around the country. In addition, many appreciations and remembrances of him were published a few days afterword, in periodicals as varied as The Washington Post, the Bakersfield Californian and the Utica Observer. One article in particular contained several personal bits of information available nowhere else: the one transcribed below from the Hamilton County News in upstate New York. It was one of two hometown newspapers available to the MacDonald family, for Hamilton County is the home of Piseco Lake, where they owned a camp and where they summered most of their lives together. It was written by Jack Leadley, Jr and was datelined Speculator, NY, December 31, 1986.
The news of John D MacDonald’s death has left many north country people mourning the loss of a longstanding part-time resident.
The best-selling author of the Travis McGee series, who died Sunday in Milwaukee at the age of 70, for decades spent summers at his vacation home on Piseco Lake in the Hamilton County Town of Arietta.
John and Joan Leadley, Route 30, knew MacDonald and his wife, Dorothy Prentiss MacDonald, for nearly 30 years. John Leadley said MacDonald bought property on Piseco Lake with his brother-in-law, Gilbert Sam Prentiss, at least 30 years ago.
MacDonald sent Leadley, who did plumbing and other work for the MacDonalds and Prentisses, copies of each new book with a personal inscription by the author.
Joan Leadley described herself as a definite fan and has read each of MacDonald’s books a number of times. The Leadleys said they were both saddened by MacDonald’s death.
John and Genevieve Zeiser, proprietors of Zeiser’s Inn on Route 30, knew the MacDonalds for about 10 years. The MacDonalds were frequent guests at Zeiser’s for lunch and dinner over recent years, and always had their own table there when they were in town.
The Zeisers built a “John D MacDonald” room at the inn last summer, stocking it with a large selection of MacDonald’s 70 novels, many of which were foreign language editions.
John Zeiser was overcome by emotion as he remembered his friend’s great sense of humor, gracious manner and fascinating conversation. “He was a dear, dear friend, a super pal,” Zeiser said. “I don’t think people realized what a wonderful sense of humor he had -- he could have also sold 70 million comic books.”
MacDonald, a cat fancier, was often seen driving through town in a car sporting a bumper sticker reading, “Take a cat to lunch.”
One of the attractions of Zeiser’s was apparently John and Genevieve’s 15-year-old cat, Ludwig, who routinely takes a substantial number of votes in local elections. MacDonald wrote in an entry in America’s Wonderful Little Hotels and Inn’s (1981), “(Zeiser’s) is owned by John and Genevieve Zeiser (and Ludwig, the cat.)”
One book MacDonald inscribed reads, “To John, Genevieve and Ludwig. One of the above understands me.”
Genevieve Zeiser described the hospitality during a 1983 visit to John and Dorothy MacDonald’s Sarasota home. She said their house was lived in, rather than formal. “You would throw your hat and coat down and John would go and fix you a drink,” she said.
Genevieve said Dorothy designed the Sarasota home after John wrote the best selling Condominium. She said Dorothy, apparently inspired by her husband’s novel, insisted on huge columns to anchor the house against hurricanes.*
“John had two offices in the house,” Genevieve said. “He always wrote two books at a time, one in each office.”
The Leadleys and Zeisers will be joined by many of their neighbors in missing the presence of the world-famous author.
* This must be incorrect. The MacDonalds began planning their new home a couple of years before moving in in July 1969. Condominium was published in March 1977.