Faces of Palmetto: Brenda McDonald

Allessandra Inzinna, feature editor

Brenda McDonald would get hand cramps from the dozens of signatures she prints everyday if not for the stress ball she keeps perched next to her on her desk.

Many see her as the judge and jury that holds the power to decide whether to stamp their admits permissible or impermissible. But McDonald has a special bond with the building and people she spends so much time with.  

“I went to school here in 1972, a graduate from Palmetto Senior. I lived in Miami basically all my life and I went to school and then I went to Miami-Dade [Community College],” McDonald said. “I knew my parents at that time couldn’t afford to pay for college for seven kids. I was the middle, I had three older than me and three younger than me. But we all paid for our own college.”

At Miami-Dade, she earned a degree in secretarial based data input and then started working at the nutrition department at South Miami Hospital. From there, she started her 12-year, at times unpleasant, career at Publix.

“I was working in the deli one Saturday and this lady came in and she said ‘I need a quarter tuna’ and I told her, ‘Ma’am, a quarter tuna is a really small, real little container.’ I said, ‘You sure you want a quarter tuna?’ She said [she] wanted a quarter tuna,” McDonald said. “When I gave her the container, she threw it at me.”

McDonald loves Publix, but does not regret her choice to leave her job to work for the public school system.

“That’s why I made my decision to come work for the children, because the adults were getting on my nerves,” McDonald said. “I said [there] should be something better than working for Publix and these old folks.”

McDonald returned to Miami Palmetto Senior High in 1984, starting a 34-year long career under former Palmetto principal Peter Bucholtz.

“Bucholtz gave me an interview to come back and see him on a Monday morning. I came back and he says ‘we’re going to put you to work,’ and we talked and he put me to work and I said ‘well, Bucholtz why can’t I give each one of your secretaries an hour of my work,’ so therefore I can learn the office work. And he said that’s a great idea. That’s how I really learned different departments in the office by working an hour a day in each department,” McDonald said. “That why people say, ‘well you wear many hats’ because I did do a lot of stuff in the office to get where I am today.”

Working with kids always enticed McDonald as a lifework, even as a child. Growing up, McDonald knew she did not want to be a nurse like her mother.

“Not the things I used to see her do. She had to do a lot of stuff, like draw blood and stuff,” McDonald said. “Basically, [I always knew what I wanted to be].”

McDonald was born in Miami but spent her younger days in the Bahamas with her grandmother until she started grammar school. Even as a kid, she knew she was meant to work with children.

“I love my job. I love my children. And the reason why I say that is because I was a foster parent, I fostered all together 25 foster kids. I fostered throughout my entire career here with Palmetto,” McDonald said. “Something in your life that you will say is meant for you to do. And I think children are meant for me to work with.”

Her parents instilled the importance of religion into their children, and it still plays a role in McDonald’s life today.

“My father and mother didn’t allow us to watch too much television, we had to read. And the main book that we had to read was the Bible,” McDonald said. “Religion is a big part of my family. All of my mother’s brothers are deacons. My grandmother was an Evangelist, I had an aunt who was Evangelist. So we all still in church. I’m just a church goer.”

McDonald has a large family inherited from her husband’s side. They met in Publix while McDonald shopped for her foster kids and then married in 2006. When McDonald retires in 2019, she plans to move to Montezuma, Georgia and live near more family.

“I stopped fostering until I get to Georgia, then I’ll probably start fostering again. I’m going to be retiring in 2019. In Montezuma, Georgia. I have a sister-in-law that lives in Savannah–two sisters-in-law that live in Savannah,” McDonald said. “[My siblings and I] keep in touch, we have dinner together, we go out and go to the movies and stuff together. We just like to mingle. On weekends, we pick out a weekend that all of us get together and we go do things. I had three children, one of them passed away.”

Despite her siblings having dispersed all over the country, Miami Palmetto represents a legacy in McDonald’s family. Not only did her older sister attend this school, but both sons did as well.

“I’ve been here for 34 years. It’s a legacy, this school. My sister went to school here, she graduated in 1970. I went here and I graduated in ‘72. My two boys went to school here,” McDonald said. “Palmetto’s a legacy to us. We have a foundation that we can lean on because this is our school. This is our school.”