Kathleen "Katie" Elaine McDonald

May 18, 1993July 9, 2018

When you hear the phrase, “She lit up the room with her smile”, that wasn’t an exaggeration with Katie. She really did. And she’s always been that way.

We are heartbroken to write the news; Katie succumbed to the devastating effects of a cardiac arrest she suffered on February 8, 2018 and called to Heaven. She fought so hard for these 5 long months, rallied after every setback—of which there were many, and hung on; towards the end, perhaps just for us. For much of the time, she STILL smiled, and every time she smiled, it lit up our hearts.

As we have been posting our journey on Facebook, and now, posting the news of her passing, we have been reading stories – all incredibly similar – of what an impact Katie has made on so many people. Of course, we love Katie, and loved how she could make us feel, but we never knew just how many lives she truly touched with her joy, warmth, true caring, ready & boisterous laugh, and often unfiltered comments.

She made so many feel uplifted and happy, especially when they might have been going through some inner struggle no one knew, just by being her.

Having a military upbringing, she knew what it was like being the new kid and didn’t want people feeling left out, so she always had a ready smile and made instant friends. One of our family friends said it this way: she was beautiful physically, but “the really great thing about Katie Mac, though, was her beautiful soul. She loved people. If you spent 10 minutes with her you left as her friend.”

We also never knew how strong and brave Katie truly was. She was terribly sensitive but could also be tough. She ran the Marine Corps Marathon (still looking photo-ready), the Wilmington NC 13.1, and then a couple months later had to adjust to the news she needed an implanted defibrillator. Unexpected health challenges would arise and she’d handle them with a big dose of humor and perseverance. But her battles over the last 5 months has shown us a depth of strength we never realized she had. But God made Katie all about fun, love and joy.

She loved her friends. She loved making new friends. She loved dancing – anytime, anyplace. Watching her dance was to feel joy and exuberance. She loved running, Zumba, and cycling…she also loved going to Cracker Barrel. She loved going to Disney World. She joked she could be Cinderella, and even had the dress to prove it! She loved NC, Blowing Rock reunions, going to Pinehurst Village – The Roast Office and her favorite Raspberry Truffle Coffee. Jogging around the lake in Whispering Pines for a “casual four” (miles). Hanging out with all our neighbors and (our) childhood friends--who are decades older.

She loved her family – anytime being with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins was the priority. But I think most of all, she loved us. She had the typical love-hate relationship with her brother but when it came down to it, she knew she couldn’t get rid of him. Watching them crack up laughing over a shared joke (usually at their dad’s expense) or just ridiculous clues for “Heads Up”, was just a joy. During this 5-month ordeal, she always looked forward to Ryan’s arrival and just beamed. Sometimes he was the only one who could make her smile.

What brings us so much comfort – and so much aching loss – is how much she loved us. She truly loved coming home, loved doing anything – or nothing – with us. She even joked we would live together in a family compound. Katie would tell anyone, unabashedly, that she was going home to hang out with her best friends: Mom and Dad.

Nothing will ever fill this aching void Katie’s loss has left – but our lives are so much richer for the 25 years of joy, laughter, and love we had with her.

Katie was surrounded in love by her mother, father, and brother, at her side when she was called to Heaven.

Kathleen “Katie” Elaine McDonald was born May 18, 1993 at the US Air Force Academy, CO and being in a military family, lived in several places: Colorado Springs, CO; Scott AFB, IL; Prattville, AL; Cabot, AR; Springfield, VA; Pope AFB, NC; Scott AFB again, then Whispering Pines, NC.

She attended Westside Elementary in Arkansas, Orange Hunt Elementary in Virginia, Albritton Jr. High and Terry Sanford High School in North Carolina, and graduated from Mascoutah High School in Illinois. Katie began her college quest at University of North Carolina Greensboro and Sandhills Community College in Southern Pines, NC and graduated from University of North Carolina Wilmington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications Studies.

She participated in the Disney College Program twice, absolutely loved everyone she worked with and loved giving everyone a “magical day.”

Most recently, Katie was a Front Desk Agent at Sapphire Falls Resort, made many instant friends among her co-workers and even some guests. She loved going the extra mile to make their day, to bring a surprised smile of appreciation for an unexpected upgrade or basket of treats.

Katie is preceded in death by her grandparents, Ken and Faith Barnebey, Robert King High, and Bernard McDonald, and her aunt, Laurel (Barnebey) Young.

She leaves behind her loving parents, John and Bonnie McDonald of Whispering Pines, NC and brother, Ryan J McDonald who lives in Ocoee, FL. She also leaves behind her paternal grandmother, many aunts, uncles, and cousins who love her dearly, as well as a multitude of friends and acquaintances whose lives were brightened by her light.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be made to the American Heart Association in memory of Katie.

“If there is ever a tomorrow that we are not together, there is one thing you should always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is: even if we’re apart, I will always be with you in the heart.” --Winnie the Pooh


  • Katie is preceded in death by her grandparents, Ken and Faith Barnebey, Robert King High, and Bernard McDonald, and her aunt, Laurel (Barnebey) Young.

    She leaves behind her loving parents, John and Bonnie McDonald of Whispering Pines, NC and brother, Ryan J McDonald who lives in Ocoee, FL. She also leaves behind her paternal grandmother, many aunts, uncles, and cousins who love her dearly, as well as a multitude of friends and acquaintances whose lives were brightened by her light.


28 July

Graveside Service

1:00 pm

Woodlawn Cemetery

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blowing Rock, NC 28605


  • Visitation Saturday, July 14, 2018

Kathleen "Katie" Elaine McDonald

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Katie Allen

July 15, 2018

Katie and I were classmates when she attended Terry Sanford. Although we fell out of touch over the years, I can still remember her. She was very sweet and always treated me with kindness. Katie was very likable and was a fun classmate to have. My heart goes out to her family during this difficult time. Katie will certainly be missed.

Daneen Dispirito

July 15, 2018

I have never had the privilege of meeting your Cinderella. I only came to know Katie's story through the posts her friend Alyssa shared. Katie's smile was enough to grasp someone's interest and I was hooked on her story. Having three girls between the ages of 23 and and 16 it breaks my heart for all that your family has been through and will continue to deal with. Even though I never met you Bonnie, you are one strong, devoted woman. Katie could not have personally handpicked a better mother. It is evident she inherited her fight and courage from you and her will and strength from her loving, supportive family. I thank you for sharing your story. I'm sure Katie has touched many people in more ways than you will ever know. I've been praying since day one and will continue to pray for you all, for peace and understanding. God bless. I'll bet Katie is showing everyone a "magical day" in Heaven just by sharing that warm smile of hers.

Cindy Moss

July 14, 2018

In a sometimes dark world, Katie was a bright light. I can see that. I will take that smiling, bigger than life image with me. What a beautiful reminder of life and all its glory.

Judy Berryhill

July 14, 2018

We have never met. I only came to learn of Katie through Facebook postings about her battle over the past five months. Although our lives never crossed, just seeing her picture and that smile made my heart happy and I just knew she would have been an instant friend of mine. I cannot say enough words to tell you how deeply we care. I hope the outpouring of memories shared here will in some way bring you comfort. Thank you for sharing that Bright Star with all of us...Until we meet.....

Martha Grant

July 13, 2018

Col MAC and Ms Bonnie. My prayers go out to you. I never had the opportunity to meet Katie but knowing you two I can know who she was. Ms Bonnie so sweet and kind. Col MAC your smile and you make folks feel at ease. She’ll be forever in your hearts. She’s walking the shoreline with Jesus and one day you all will be together again. She’s keeping eye on you both and no longer in pain. She’s running those golden streets of Heaven. Praying for each and everyone. Martha, Andy and Andrew Grant. God bless.

Alisa Keyser

July 13, 2018

Dear Katie - I know I am suppose to be writing to your family, but I had written my first time to you while you were trying your best to overcome the challenges you were facing. Trying my best to introduce our family to you, so that you would "know" some of the people who were supporting you that you had not met. Who you are was evident by how your Mom and Dad would talk about it when we brought up our kids at picnics and everyday conversations. Your smile alone told everyone what a terrific person you were and will always be to those who had the pleasure to love you, care for you, watch you grow and who got to know you while never even meeting you. The impressions you have made on so many people will go on forever - and hopefully your family, friends and loved ones will take some peace with them knowing you have forever impacted so many lives. The Keysers as a rule don't say good-bye - we just say until next time. So in keeping with that, until the next time when we get to meet, be in peace Katie.
Sending love and prayers to everyone.

Shirley Gagliano

July 13, 2018

Bonnie and John, you have been in my thoughts and prayers the last several days. I remember Katie as a little girl when you came for visits to Chattanooga. And I remember her big smile then.
Wishing you peace and comfort during this time.
Shirley Gagliano

Terry Nowaczyk

July 12, 2018

That light is even brighter now!!!
She was an inspiration to us all . I never had the privilege of meeting her but Her smile made me smile.
Can you imagine all the smiles and angel wings flying when she came 😇
Thank you McDonald family for sharing your light with all of us !! TyJ.

Sarah Threatt

July 12, 2018

I met Katie on the first day of my second semester of college at Sandhills community college. I had all the first day of class nerves. I walked into Western Civ, picked a seat in the back, like I always did. I thought surely that way nobody would sit near me and I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. But then here she came, coming in right before the teacher started, and sat down with one seat between us. We just smiled at each other that day, but the next day she was in the seat next to me, and we were getting in trouble for talking and not paying attention. From that day on, we didn’t pay much attention to our professor, half the time we weren’t even there. Why go to class when you can get coffee and go shop? We would pick because we literally didn’t even know our professors name! I think we both ended the class with a C, but more importantly we ended the class with a lifelong friendship. Our friendship has held strong since. The world is definitely not as bright without our Katie girl. But I’m at such peace knowing she feels no pain, and that I will see her again. Love you, Katie 💗 - your “honorary little sister from the pines”

Sylvia Archie

July 12, 2018

Classmate Mark, I am so sorry to hear about your niece. She sounds like a beautiful soul. I had to say goodbye to my beautiful niece in February. She was similar to your Katie Mac, but quite a bit older. I know they both are in a much better place with our father who is in heaven. I hope it’s a consolation for your family, to know she well and at peace. Let her sweet memories and the love of God sustain and strengthen you. Be blessed!