Thomas Newton (Tom) McDonald (1933–)

Photographer Thomas Newton McDonald, a resident of Jonesboro (Craighead County), accumulated many honors in his lifetime, including the United Nations award for service to humanity, Gerard Bakker Award for teaching, and National Award for Service from both the Arkansas Professional Photographers and Southwestern Professional Photographers. His primary work focused on portrait photography, but he also took scenic and artistic photographs. In 1996, McDonald wrote The Business of Portrait Photography: A Professional’s Guide to Marketing and Managing a Successful Studio, with Profiles of 30 Top Portrait Photographers. The book, published by Amphoto Books of New York, was later published in a second edition and translated into Mandarin for publication in China.

Born in Lake City (Craighead County) on July 2, 1933, to Harry Holmes McDonald and Wilma Beatrice Bates McDonald, Tom McDonald was the second of three children. He grew up in Lake City and Jonesboro, graduating from Jonesboro High School at age sixteen. Following high school, he attended Arkansas State College (now Arkansas State University) in Jonesboro for two years. Afterward, he completed his bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin and pursued graduate studies at Memphis State University.

McDonald met Jo Alice McGuire, daughter of Eugene McGuire and Vivian Abbott McGuire, in January 1957. They married on July 12, 1958, at Yarbro Methodist Church in Blytheville (Mississippi County). The couple had three children: Thomas Michael, Stephen Mark, and Margaret Alison.

Growing up with a newspaperman father, McDonald knew he wanted to be a journalist. His began working as a sportswriter for the Jonesboro Sun when he was fifteen and held that job until he finished his studies at Arkansas State. While a student at UT, he worked part time at the Austin American-Statesman for six months before moving into a full-time position.

During the six-month period between his graduation from UT and the beginning of is service in the U.S. Army, he worked for the Arkansas Gazette. Sports editor Orville Henry assigned him the task of taking pictures and writing stories to chronicle every school in Arkansas with a football team. According to McDonald, this assignment led him across Arkansas to places he had never seen before. He also wrote sideline stories on the Arkansas Razorbacks.

In the army, McDonald served as an armor officer from 1954 to 1956, attaining the rank of first lieutenant. He was assigned to the Sixth Armored Cavalry Regiment for border patrol in Straubing, Germany. His journalism training was useful to his unit when he was called in to write a story for the local German newspaper following the suicide of a German civilian.

While in Germany, McDonald took correspondence courses in accounting and retailing. Despite his lifelong interest in journalism, he had always wanted to own a business. Following his military service, McDonald worked for the Jonesboro Sun as sports editor until launching his photography business full time in 1965. Although they began as local portrait photographers, McDonald and his wife eventually gained an international reputation for their ability to engage their subjects. As McDonald put it, “Jo Alice was a star because language wasn’t a barrier with children.” They conducted many workshops and demonstrations throughout the United States, nearly a dozen in Europe, and others in the Philippines, Iceland, and the Canary Islands.

McDonald’s career ended when he suffered a debilitating back injury. He and his wife continue to reside in Jonesboro and are active in their church and in various community organizations. McDonald donated a collection of photographic negatives, prints, and books to Arkansas State University in 2012, and the collection is now among the holdings of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives in Powhatan (Lawrence County).

For additional information:
Jared, George. “Local Photographers Donate Decades of Work.” Jonesboro Sun, October 27, 2013.

Thomas N. McDonald Collection. Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives, Powhatan, Arkansas.

Lisa Perry
Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives

Last Updated: 03/15/2016