Esther McDonald

September 5, 1926 ~ February 27, 2020 (age 93)


Esther J. McDonald
09/05/1926 - 02/27/2020

Esther Marie Johnson was born September 5, 1926 in Seattle, Washington. Starting from go, she didn't stop until she passed away on February 27, 2020 at the family ranch in Philipsburg. She will be remembered for her boundless energy, public service, and willingness to lend a helping hand, all while raising 8 children and working on the family ranch.

Esther was the oldest of two children born to Philip Gustav and Catherine (Foley) Johnson. Her father was an executive for Boeing Airlines which required several family moves. Esther and her brother Philip Gustav, Jr spent their early years in Seattle, Chicago, New York, Montreal, and then back to Seattle. Esther attended high school at the Ethel Walker Preparatory School in Simsbury, Connecticut where she made it clear to her parents that her true passions were horses and farm animals and someday having a ranch. Those passions led her to Washington State University where she enrolled in the College of Agriculture. She graduated in 1948, was the first women to earn a degree in Animal Husbandry from WSU, and also earned a minor in journalism. In 2004, she was honored as an outstanding alumnus for being a pioneer for women in agriculture. While at WSU, Esther was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority and maintained close ties with her sorority sisters throughout her life.

After graduating, Esther headed to Montana where she took a position in the Flathead Valley as a horse counselor for the Shining Mountain Camp. She later moved to a small ranch in the Bitterroot Valley where she put her education to work raising Hereford cattle, honed her legendary culinary skills, and began her long involvement with 4-H. In 1951, while attending the Top Cut Bull sale in Missoula she met her future husband John "Pat" McDonald. They were married on November 23, 1953 in Hamilton. She moved to the McDonald Ranch in Philipsburg where she and Pat expanded the operation and raised their 8 children. Esther was proud of the ranch, her family, and the fact that she was able to provide all her children a college education. In 2018, she presided over a celebration of the ranch's 150th anniversary.

Esther was busy both on and off the ranch and didn't know the meaning of retirement. She spent countless hours at her children's and grandchildren's high school events. She was a 4-H leader for over 35 years during which time she chaperoned hundreds of kids at the county fairs, judging competitions, camping trips, and horseback rides. Most of those kids will never forget camping at Racetrack Lake where it snowed 8" in July. Esther was a staunch supporter of agriculture. She served on many committees and advisory boards but was especially proud of her work with the Montana Cattlewomen Association. She was president from 1998-2000 and enjoyed travelling the state developing friendships with like-minded women. Esther was also proud of her involvement with the Granite County Museum and Cultural Center. She served on the Board, was a past Chairman, and volunteered in the Gift Shop.

One of Esther's favorite pastimes was cooking for friends and family. If you visited the ranch for more than a few hours, she would insist you stay for dinner. At the very least, there was always hot coffee accompanied by fresh cookies or pie. Esther liked cooking so much that she took a job teaching kids to cook at the Anaconda Job Corps in the late 1980s. She thoroughly enjoyed her "second" career and all the good people she worked with at the Job Corps. Esther also had a lifelong passion for bridge, which she played well into her 90's.

Esther was an accomplished yet humble women. She liked helping others but rarely asked for help. She always acknowledged gifts or acts of kindness with a handwritten note. She was an icon in the Flint Creek Valley and will be missed by her family, her many friends, and especially by her faithful dog Riley and cat Axel.

Esther is survived by sons John (Ruth), Philip (Holly Carnes), Scott (Kim Ullman), daughters Mary (Tom Ruffatto), Patty (Rodney Hobaugh), Maggie, Katie (Jeff Braun), and Sady (Darell) Babcock; grandchildren Alexandra, Charlie, and Cole McDonald, and Tanner, Bridger, and Mackenzie Babcock, and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins. She was preceded in death by her parents, husband John "Pat" McDonald, brother P.G. Johnson, son-in-law Remy Pochelon, and many other friends and relatives.

The family suggests memorials for Esther can be made to the Granite County Museum, PO Box 502, Philipsburg, MT, 59858; the Montana 4-H Foundation, or a charity of your choice.

A celebration of Esther's life will be held March 7, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. at St. Philips Catholic Church in Philipsburg, MT. There will be one hour of visitation prior to the service. A reception will follow at the Granite County Museum.


MAR 7. 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM (MST)

St. Philip's Neri Church
Philipsburg, MT 59858

Mass of Christian Burial

MAR 7. 1:00 PM (MST)

St. Philip's Neri Church
Philipsburg, MT 59858

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Esther McDonald, please visit our floral store.


You can still show your support by sending flowers directly to the family, or by planting a memorial tree in the memory of Esther McDonald
© 2021 Longfellow Finnegan Riddle Funeral Home. All Rights Reserved. Funeral Home website by CFS & TA | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy