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Bruce Macdonald is retiring as the CEO of the YMCA of Metro North

Peabody, Ma. 11-19-18. Bruce Macdonald, the executive director of the YMCA Metro North is retiring after 40 years. (Owen O'Rourke)

PEABODY — Bruce Macdonald, longtime president and CEO of the YMCA of Metro North, will step down on January 25, his 64th birthday. He’s signed a one-year contract for a retirement job that will focus on his overseeing the completion of the new $27 million Y facility in Lynn, he said.

Kathleen Walsh, chief operating officer since 2014, will succeed Macdonald, a Y executive for more than 40 years. Macdonald, a Beverly native, said a successor plan has been in place for more than four years.

“When I started with the Y in 1977, Tuesday and Thursday were Women’s Days. Those were the only days women could come in,” said Macdonald, relaxing in his office at 2 Centennial Drive. “Kathleen will be the first woman to run this organization. There are now more women than men participating in activities and working out at our Ys. The Y is all-inclusive, and the timing is right. Kathleen is highly qualified and the perfect person to lead and grow the YMCA of Metro North. She is ready to go.”

Walsh is a graduate of Bishop Fenwick High School and Providence College, and earned her master’s degree in sports and recreation management from Northeastern University.

The YMCA of Metro North has a strong community presence in Lynn/Nahant, Peabody, Lynnfield, Saugus, Revere, Stoneham and Melrose. Under Macdonald’s leadership, the Greater Lynn YMCA/YMCA of Metro North has seen its revenue increase from $1.8 million to nearly $24 million. The organization has 25,000 members at its seven facilities and employs 550 individuals, 150 of those full-time.

Macdonald and his wife, Diane, a nurse, live in Beverly and are the parents of three children. They have five grandchildren, with a sixth on the way.

When Macdonald, the second of seven children born to Sylvania worker Robert and Lois Macdonald, was a fifth-grader, his dad got the family a membership at the Beverly Y. “I swam in the pool, advancing from Minnow to Flying Fish levels and going to Pow-Wow (summer camp).” At the time, he could not have imagined he’d spend his entire working life at the YMCA. “I always thought I’d be a teacher or a coach, but those were the days of Proposition 2½ and there were no teaching jobs,” said Macdonald, who captained the Beverly High football team in 1973, the year he graduated. “I majored in phys ed at the old Boston State College, and served as a church league basketball coach. The Y ran that league, and I was asked if I’d ever thought about working at the Y as a career. I thought it would be fun, but at some point I figured I’d have to get a real job.”

In 1977, he was hired as associate physical education director at the Somerville Y. Five years later, he read a story in the newspaper that the entire board of directors at the Salem YMCA resigned, and that the branch had financial problems and dwindling membership. Sounds like the perfect job for me, he thought. He was hired as executive director.

“Scott Riley, the new chairman of the board, saw me as being raw but having potential. He guided me every step of the way. He basically gave me a master’s degree in administration, such a huge help. I really enjoyed that job. It was a small independent Y, and we did everything that had to be done.” He enrolled at Lesley College and earned his master’s in business management. His thesis was “How to raise a million dollars to build a new swimming pool,” and set in motion the construction of a brand new building in Salem that featured a brand new pool. It was nearly completed when the Greater Lynn YMCA came calling.

Like the situation at the Salem Y, Lynn faced money problems and internal strife.That was in 1992, and he was up for the challenge, becoming CEO of the Lynn, Saugus and Peabody YMCAs. In 2012, the Melrose and Stoneham Y’s were merged into the operations, and the YMCA of Metro North was born. A gymnastics center was established in Saugus, with programs serving 1,200 kids. Peabody got its state-of-the-art Torigian Family facility.

And, come Jan. 25, Macdonald can concentrate solely on the new Lynn facility. Financing is in place, the executive board is energized and excited, and Gov. Charlie Baker attended the groundbreaking last month. The planned 70,000-square-foot complex is being built in front of the current YMCA. Set to open in 2020, the new building will have seven preschool classrooms, a 12,000-square-foot fitness area, a gymnasium, a teaching kitchen, a cafe, a 6,000-square-foot rooftop garden, and an aquatic center with a lap pool, learning pool, and splash pad.

“It’s going to be a terrific thing for the city of Lynn,” said Macdonald. “That part of the city, called the Education District, is happening. St. Mary’s is building a STEM lab, Lynn Tech is expanding and KIPP Academy is building there. We are expanding partnerships with Girls Inc., and other organizations. It’s a real opportunity to help build on Lynn’s recent success.”

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