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Penn Law mourns loss of Kathleen McDonnell

November 14, 2017

Kathleen A. McDonnell, an esteemed Career Counselor in Penn Law’s Office of Career Planning and Professionalism, died unexpectedly on Monday, November 13.

“Kathy was a breath of fresh air to all who knew her,” said Ted Ruger, Dean of the Law School. “For a generation of Penn Law students interested in prosecutorial and other government positions, she has been guide, connector, and muse. Her positivity and zest infused all she did, making her an exceptional colleague and friend.”

Kathy joined Penn Law after serving as Chief of the Legislation Unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office from 2006-2011, where she had been Assistant Chief since 1987. Prior to 1987, she served Philadelphia as an Assistant District Attorney in the Appeals Unit. While at the District Attorney’s Office, she served as Chairperson for the Hiring Committee for twenty years until her departure, hiring a generation of ADA for the City. She also worked in the City Solicitor’s Office.  

Prior to her government service, Kathy worked for Fox, Rothschild, O’Brien and Frankel and clerked for the Honorable Carolyn Engle Temin L’58. She graduated summa cum laude in 1976 with a B.S. from the Temple University School of Social Administration and received her law degree from the Temple University School of Law in 1980.

“Kathy McDonnell was simply unique,” said Jo-Ann Verrier, Vice Dean for Administrative Services at Penn Law. “I first met her when I joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in the Appeals Division, where she took me under her wing – and what a wing that was. When she agreed, after a decade of my pestering, to join Penn Law’s Career Planning Office, I rejoiced, knowing she would bring to the Office an optimistic energy and serve individual students with her forthright honesty and unflappable positivity. Kathy made people around her better at what they did. Under her wing, you put your aspirations to the test and, with her creating the draft, found yourself more than able. We will rely on what she has taught us as we miss her most dearly.”    

“Kathy’s free spirit, generosity and sympathetic soul inspired Penn Law graduates, especially those who had the privilege of working closely with her,” said Heather Frattone, Associate Dean for Student and Professional Engagement. “Kathy saw in every student a unique potential and helped them to see it in themselves.”  

“Her encouragement and her easy way made every student she counseled feel supported in the way they needed at the moment,” noted Jennifer Leonard, Director of the Law School’s Center on Professionalism. “Kathy’s quick wit and feisty sense of humor lifted the spirit of students and staff, providing much needed perspective and positivity. We will forever miss our friend and colleague.”

Kathy lived in Philadelphia and at the South Jersey shore with her husband, Winkle, and their son, Major, both respected musicians. To know Kathy was to know of her pride in her “boys” – she would happily share with you Major’s most recent production. 

Notes of support and condolences may be sent to: The Van Winkle Family, 826 Kimball Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147.

Her family will welcome visitors at a wake on Monday, November 20, from 6-8 p.m. at the Monti-Rago Funeral Home, 2531-35 S. Broad Street. There will be a Funeral Mass Tuesday, November 21, at 10 a.m. at The Church of St. Rita of Cascia, Broad and Ellsworth Streets.

Interment will be private. In lieu of flowers, Kathy’s family requests contributions be made in Kathy’s Memory to St. Rita of Cascia Church. A shining light leaves us with her passing.

We are pleased to announce the establishment of the Kathleen A. McDonnell Fund here at Penn Law. Proceeds of the Fund will be used to assist students in the public interest job search (travel to interviews, support on bar review funding, etc.) and will enable our Career Services colleagues to keep Kathy’s memory alive as they support these students and encourage them with stories of Kathy’s positive spirit.

We expect to hold a memorial service for Kathy in January and will announce the date as soon as it is confirmed. 

If you are interested in contributing to the Fund, you can do so here.



Comments from the Community


Kathy gave me some great advice one morning when I had a really tough decision to make, and it had a lasting impact on my career, and life. Thank you, Kathy, for your service, and may you rest in the peace of the Lord! - Bryan C. Williamson, L’18


Kathy played a significant role in every stage in my career, from law school, to two prosecutor’s offices, to a political campaign, to the aftermath at Penn Law. A wonderful woman whose voice was as big as her heart, she touched the lives of countless others. I was privileged to have known her. - Joe Khan, Lecturer in Law at Penn Law


Worked and laughed with Kathy, her spirit embraced you. It was always clear she felt loved. - Stephen Paulmier


Kathy is one of the reasons I did not give up. There was a point in law school where I wanted to quit. But I decided first, before throwing in the towel, that I needed to give it one last shot. So I reached out to the Career Center, and was matched with Kathy. She had this way about her that I cant quite put in words…but she gave me hope, confidence, and a new perspective. She was not afraid to go against the norm, and had a great sense of humor to go with it. I never told Kathy what she did for me. I went on to graduate and am now an attorney, and I could not have done it without her. Thank you Kathy. My thoughts and prayers are with your family. - Sarah Tornetta, class of 2017


Kathy was always a strong advocate in my pursuit of a career in prosecution, both while I was a student and an alumna. She was honest and encouraging, reminded me why I enjoy criminal law so much, and served as a model for an aspiring prosecutor. Her passing is a loss for the Penn law community. - Katherine Gregory, L’2012


When I struck out in OCI, you provided the fire and kick in the pants I needed to get my act together and secure my 2L job. And when was back on the hunt in my 3L year, you again found the time (in spite of 2L OCI and CP&P’s brief relocation to the library) to sit down with me again to make sure that I continued to get it right. Thanks to your advice, I once again overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to get on the career path I wanted. You showed me how to advocate for myself. You showed me how to put my very best on display. When 1Ls and 2Ls asked me who I recommended in CP&P, I pointed them to you in a heartbeat. It was because you shot straight and did not sugar coat it when we were less than our very best. From you, I learned how I could be the best advocate for myself. Your loss blindsided me and made me realize how lucky I was to have had the benefit of your guidance. You really helped me drag out my potential in my darkest hours. I will always remember your strength, directness, compassion, and confidence. Penn Law and I will miss you very dearly. - Calvin Lee, Penn Law Class of 2017


Kathy was a wonderful mentor and friend. She helped guide my career during and after my time at Penn Law, and she truly wanted to help find me something that made me happy. Her candor and optimistic mentality was always appreciated. She always brought me joy and encouragement. The news of her passing is shocking and devastating. She will truly be missed. Her family is in my prayers. - Mike Siravo, L’16


I remember meeting with her for an interview prep session. You could tell she genuinely cared about me doing well, even though we’d never met before and she probably did 10 prep sessions a day. Just a very nice person. - Steven Messer L14


Kathy was and is one of the most important people in my life as a mentor and friend. She is the best of humanity. - Zahir Rahman, L ’15


Kathy was a great counselor and I have fond memories of her. I remember speaking to her in April 17 and she was so encouraging to me. She gave me a much needed boost to my confidence when i needed it most. For that I thank her. - Hui Tung Sing (LLM 17)