James M. McDonough, longtime Suffolk County assistant district attorney

James M. McDonough
James M. McDonough

Hundreds of young lawyers passed through the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office between 1964 and the early 1990s, and at some point nearly everyone working there was influenced by James M. McDonough.

“Everybody said ‘Make sure you see Jim McDonough,’ ” said Robert J. McKenna, a Boston Municipal Court judge who was a law student when he began working in the district attorney’s office. “He really was a mentor to all of the young attorneys in the office.”

Mr. McDonough, a longtime assistant district attorney who was honored in the late 1990s for his service to the office, died April 23 in Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton after suffering a heart attack. He was 83, lived in Easton, and formerly lived in West Roxbury for many years.


Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley received an award for his work on the same evening as Mr. McDonough.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“I was honored to be chosen and to share the stage with Jimmy because he was such a wonderful human being and really deserved the award,” Conley said. “I was really humbled to be in his company on that day.”

Conley started in the office in 1984 as an assistant district attorney. He recalled that Mr. McDonough, who at the time supervised the grand jury, gave him advice whenever he needed it.

“When I would be presenting cases to the grand jury, if I happened to miss something, he wouldn’t call me out on it,” Conley said.

Instead, Mr. McDonough would quietly pull Conley aside and offer wise counsel.


“He was an indispensable part of the DA’s office during his tenure,” Conley said.

Mr. McDonough was involved in several high-profile cases, including that of William “Lefty” Gilday, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing a police officer in the September 1970 robbery of a Brighton bank and eluding police during a multi-day manhunt.

“If there was an unsung hero in that prosecution it was Jim McDonough,” McKenna said.

Mr. McDonough also was heavily involved in the trial of Bryan Dyer, who was sentenced to life in prison for bludgeoning and shooting four people inside a Brighton bowling alley in September 1980, said his son, James Jr. of West Roxbury.

“He probably worked on every major felony when Garrett Byrne was district attorney and then throughout the beginning of the Newman Flanagan era,” McKenna said.


Though work was important, McKenna said, it was only one part of Mr. McDonough’s life. He was devoted to his seven children and his wife, Regina, whom he began dating in high school.

‘He really was a mentor to all of the young attorneys in the office.’

Mr. McDonough grew up in Portland, Maine, the youngest of five children born to James and Nora Lee McDonough, who were Irish immigrants.

Mr. McDonough and Regina Foley graduated together in 1946 from Cheverus High School in Portland, and he told family he knew then he would become a lawyer.

He attended Boston College on a full scholarship and was vice president and secretary of the Fulton Debating Society. He was also a member of the Cross and Crown honor society.

Mr. McDonough graduated in 1950 and went to Boston College Law School.

In 1951, he married Foley and lived in Boston before buying a Colonial in West Roxbury, where they raised their children and lived for 40 years, she said.

Three of their children were born before Mr. McDonough graduated from law school in 1953. For five years, he worked in the law office of Isadore H.Y. Muchnick in Boston.

He went into private practice in 1959, and in 1964 became a legal assistant in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, where he specialized in appellate work and later worked on major criminal trials.

After 15 years, Mr. McDonough became a full-time assistant district attorney. By the time he retired, he was in charge of grand jury presentations. He retired in the early 1990s.

“He loved his work,” his wife said, “He loved helping people out.”

Throughout his life, family was a main priority for Mr. McDonough.

“He was so very proud of his family,” McKenna said. “There were always current stories about the children’s accomplishments.”

Mr. McDonough’s wife said the family sat down for dinner together every night and he made a point of being an important part of his children’s lives.

“The word is balance,” she said, adding that “he worked hard as a prosecutor, and worked hard as a family man.”

Mr. McDonough would tell his children to “get cracking” with their homework before doing anything else after they got home from school, his son recalled.

“You went to school and you did your work,” he said. “If you got in trouble at school, you were in more trouble when you got home.”

The family had season tickets to Boston College football games and went together often while the children were growing up. Mr. McDonough attended concerts and sports events for his children, and when he retired, he made it a priority to be there for his 13 grandchildren.

“They all came away feeling like he was their favorites,” his son said.

In retirement, Mr. McDonough enjoyed reading historical books and novels about Ireland, golfing with friends and old colleagues, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and grandchildren.

A service has been held for Mr. McDonough, who in addition to his wife, son, and grandchildren leaves five daughters, Kathryn Hinderhofer of Wellesley, Anne Black of Hingham, Regina Vaughan of Wethersfield, Conn., and Margaret Webster and Patricia Marsan, both of Easton; another son, William of Chicago; two sisters, Mary Young of Melrose and Anne Rowe of Falmouth; and four great-grandchildren.

“He’s a great example to young prosecutors, young men who grow up to be themselves, balancing families and civic responsibility,” Conley said.

Alli Knothe can be reached at