Saying goodbye to friend and mentor Don McMillan

Rob DriesleinThe state conservation scene lost one of its hardest-working volunteers and leaders Thursday with the passing of Don McMillan.

Don’s sphere of influence extended well beyond Minnesota’s borders, maybe America’s borders, through his work with Safari Club International and other organizations. Beyond his efforts on behalf of hunters and conservation causes, McMillan was a good friend and mentor to so many outdoors advocates.

McMillan, 74, of Mendota Heights, suffered a heart attack Tuesday night and passed away Thursday afternoon. In recent years, McMillan had served as president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance and was especially active in promoting and organizing MOHA’s annual legislative banquet. The past couple of years, that event has been huge and well attended by state leaders from both parties.

Don McMillan

A dentist by profession, McMillan came to the advocacy side of conservation honestly: through hunting and fishing. An avid big-game (and big fish) hunter, McMillan had traveled the world enjoying the great outdoors. He worked closely on policy items for SCI through the years, even serving as the organization’s president.

My first experience with Don came as editor of Outdoor News, when he disagreed with me or another columnist on a topic or two. Never afraid to speak his mind or set the record straight, he’d write thorough commentaries in response. A healthy respect and then friendship gradually developed between the two of us, as well as the entire staff here at Outdoor News. If I had a national policy question, Don always was willing to assist and connect us with the right people.

McMillan rarely said “no” to a request, whether it was organizing events, traveling to make speeches, or cracking out an editorial on an important, timely topic. His upbeat, results-driven attitude was infectious, and he helped keep the next generation of conservation leaders motivated during the decade-plus-long fight to pass the Legacy Amendment in 2008.

On a personal level, in 2006, when I was considering applying for a graduate school MBA program at the University of St. Thomas, I needed several letters of recommendation. Somehow I learned that Don was an alum, so I cautiously approached him about writing a letter on my behalf. To anyone who knew Don, perhaps his answer wasn’t surprising: “Rob, I’d be honored!”

(My credentials for grad school weren’t particularly fabulous, but I got in, and I always figured that gracious letter from Dr. McMillan tipped the scales in my favor.)

At nearly every outdoor event, rally, or meeting, Don diligently was working behind the scenes to complete the task at hand or plan the next event. Last summer at Game Fair, I snapped some pictures of him working at the

Sportsmen for Change booth, busy volunteering and educating visitors on the top outdoor issues of the day. If half the outdoorsmen in this state worked half as hard as Don in devoting time and energy to improving our environment, fighting for gun rights, and just plain advocating for outdoor users, I think we’d be bored by the lack of outdoor issues. It’d be that good.

Garry Leaf, from Sportsmen for Change, tells me Don will be honored with a moment of silence on the state Senate floor today. Joe Albert is planning an extensive story on the life, career, and legacy of Don for next week’s Outdoor News.

Don worked hard, but he played hard, too. In the many stories you’ll see about his remarkable life in coming days, you’ll see lots of pictures of him hunting and fishing around the world.

On Facebook and via texts and emails with friends, so many people are professing their love and respect for this man. Don had a long, incredibly productive career, but that doesn’t make the suddenness of this loss any easier.

Many of us expected to see him cruising through the Capitol trenches for years to come. Don was a father figure to many, and words can’t express the debt I personally feel I owe this champion of the outdoors. Please keep Don’s family in your hearts and prayers during this difficult time.

Rest in peace, friend and mentor Don McMillan.

Dennis Anderson, outdoors editor at the Star Tribune, has funeral and memorial service information for McMillan here.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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