Kathleen A. McDonnell, 66, of Philadelphia, a career counselor for the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a former assistant district attorney, died Monday, Nov. 13, in her sleep at home, her family said.

Kathleen A. McDonnell
Fotobuddy, Sameer Khan
Kathleen A. McDonnell

In 2011, Ms. McDonnell joined the faculty at Penn Law  and soon made her mark in the office of career planning and professionalism.

"Kathy was a breath of fresh air to all who knew her," said Ted Ruger, law school dean. "For a generation of Penn Law students interested in prosecutorial and other government positions, she has been guide, connector, and muse. Her positivity and zest infused all she did, making her an exceptional colleague and friend."

Before joining Penn Law, Ms. McDonnell spent 24 years in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, where she served at various times as chief of the legislation unit and as an assistant district attorney in the appeals unit.

One of her lasting contributions was as 20-year chairwoman of the hiring committee, recruiting a generation of assistant district attorneys. Another was successfully pressing legislators to update criminal laws in the commonwealth involving sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, and violent crime. She succeeded in lengthening the statute of limitations for prosecution of child predators, her colleagues said.

"She was a pit bull of a lobbyist in Harrisburg on behalf of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association," said her friend Common Pleas Court Judge Susan I. Schulman. "As chief of the legislation unit for the Philadelphia DA's Office, she could eviscerate opposition for the causes she championed with her keen intellect and wit, all the while finding the sweet spot of humor to build consensus."

But she also worked on behalf of defendants who appeared in the criminal courts with drug, alcohol, and mental-health problems, said Common Pleas Court Judge Charles A. Ehrlich. She collaborated with the legislature and district attorneys throughout the state to develop treatment courts.

"Kathy cared about people and went the extra mile so many times to help them, whether in or out of the DA's Office," Ehrlich said. "She had an enormous influence in helping people navigate life – all while doing it with great joy."

Prior to her service with the city, Ms. McDonnell practiced at the law firm of Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel. After graduating from Temple University in 1976, and Temple Law School in 1980, she clerked for Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engle Temin.

Born in Philadelphia, she was a 1969 graduate of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Holmesburg.

Kathleen A. McDonnell
Courtesy of the family
Kathleen A. McDonnell

She married Don Van Winkle, who had played in one of the seminal Philly rock bands, the American Dream, and had been a fixture on the city's music scene for decades, said Stephen Fried, an author and former editor of Philadelphia Magazine.

"She was a dynamo, with an unmistakable Philly growl, an infectious laugh, and a loving sense of the absurd. She knew sports, she knew music, she knew the law, and she knew people and what they needed," Fried said.

The couple had a son, Major Van Winkle, also a musician. The family spent time in Philadelphia and at the Jersey Shore.

"To know Kathy was to know of her pride in her 'boys' – she would happily share with you Major's most recent production," her friends said.

Her hobbies were music and film, but most of all, giving advice to anyone in need of it.

"She had a black belt in internet shopping and gift-giving. Her wrapping alone was a thing of beauty," her husband said.

"She was a bright, angry, professional Buddha," her son said. "She was truly one of a kind."

Besides her husband and son, Ms. McDonnell is survived by two sisters and a nephew.

A visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, at Monti-Rago Funeral Home, 2531 S. Broad St., Philadelphia 19148. A funeral service will follow at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, at St. Rita's Church, 1166 S. Broad St. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the church at the address above.