Attorney John J. McDonald Jr. won the respect of clients and colleagues alike during the more than 20 years he was a partner at the Minneapolis law firm of Meagher & Geer, where he represented fidelity bond insurers, insurance brokerage firms, banks and a host of large and small commercial businesses.

"He was a classy lawyer," said state Attorney General Lori Swanson. "He was a bright and talented attorney and a great advocate for his clients. He knew so much about the law but practiced old-school. When he made a promise, you could take it to the bank; you could trust his word."

McDonald, 55, died of undetermined causes Sunday at his Mendota Heights home. An autopsy was to be conducted, said his brother-in-law, Dave Chapman of Mendota Heights.

His innovative thinking, along with the ability to ask the pointed questions and befriend those with opposing views, were among the reasons Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him as a commissioner on the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) last year and the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection in 2008.

"He brought a lot of value to the commission," said MAC Chairman Jack Lanners. "He cared about each issue that came up, no matter how small. He cared about the resolutions and the people involved."

McDonald exhibited those same attributes in the office, where his vision and energy helped Meagher & Geer expand its litigation practice, said managing partner Greg Stephens. He wrote articles for publications such as Fidelity & Surety Law Journal and the Defense Counsel Journal, and was regularly recognized as a top 40 "Super Lawyer" by Minnesota Law & Politics magazine for his practice in employment law. He was included in "The Best Lawyers in America" for commercial litigation from 2003 to 2010, and listed in the 2006 edition of the Best of the U.S. Inc.'s "Best Service Professionals in the United States" for commercial litigation.

"I remember the high regard the Minnesota bench and bar had for John as a lawyer," said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "I remember John for his warm friendship as well."

Born in St. Paul, McDonald graduated from St. Thomas Academy in 1973 and earned a bachelor's degree from what is now the University of St. Thomas. He earned his law degree from Creighton University Law School in Omaha in 1981 and was admitted to the Minnesota State Bar in 1982.

"He loved practicing the law and loved making his argument," his brother-in-law said. "He was a relationship-builder, and he knew how to network."

McDonald was a longtime active member of the Church of the Assumption in St. Paul.

He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Ann; a daughter, Ellie, and a son, Will, all of Mendota Heights; his mother, Colleen McDonald of St. Paul, and two sisters, Christy Peters-Vick of Mendota Heights and Molly McDonald of California.

Services have been held.