Farewell to Thomas Bud McDonald

Thomas ‘Bud’ McDonald was a child star who became a pillar in the recovery community.

‘Bud’ helped found drug and alcohol treatment programs after recovering himself from alcoholism many years ago. He died of congestive heart failure. He was 85 years old.

Bud appeared in some of the “Our Gang” movies as a boy before leaving California to relocate to Oregon thus leaving his movie career behind him.

After his return to California, Bud joined the Marines at the start of World War II. A training accident disqualified him from active duty so he became an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, where he worked for about four years.

By his late 20s McDonald had developed a serious drinking problem. He left the LAPD, in part because of his alcoholism. “He was running with a bad crowd,” his son said. He robbed a store at gunpoint, was convicted of a felony and sent to prison. There, he started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. “At that point my father was confronted with the fact that his life was going down the drain,” Scott McDonald said.

After serving six months of a longer sentence, McDonald was released on good behavior. He then became active in Alcoholics Anonymous. He often sponsored newer members and went to court with them to settle drunk-driving charges. He got to know several judges.

Starting in the late 1960s, McDonald helped launch educational and treatment programs in public schools with Downey Municipal Court Judge Leon Emerson. They developed a “court card” system that allows offenders to attend alcoholism recovery meetings as part of their probation sentence. The program name refers to the card that parolees have stamped by organizers at meetings and present in court periodically. The system has been adopted nationally, Emerson said this week.

In the early 1970s McDonald and Emerson co-founded what is now called the Southern California Alcohol and Drug Programs. The Downey agency sponsors alcohol rehab centers for men and women and serves about 3,000 people each year. McDonald helped develop projects, helped raise money for them and continued mentoring recovering alcoholics.

Bud is responsible for contributing to the creation of many alcohol treatment centers. Bud never forgot he’d been down and out and once needed a hand,” Lynne Appel, executive director of the program, said this week. “His greatest satisfaction was having someone stop him and say they had a family, a car, and were paying their mortgage,” years after they had been through rehabilitation. Bud was a beloved member of the Southern California recovery community and he will be missed dearly.