When she died Thursday at the age of 106, Margaret McDermott—who established the McDermott Foundation in 1955 with her husband Eugene, the co-founder of Texas Instruments—was the undisputed doyenne of Dallas philanthropy.
The McDermotts donated tens of millions of dollars over the years to North Texas causes in the arts, education, and health fields. And, up until just recently, Margaret remained a visible and welcome presence at countless Dallas charity events. She’d be rolled into the gathering in her wheelchair—smiling, invariably clad in white—and the crowd would open up, like the parting of the Red Sea. A few would bend down to greet her, but most kept their distance, almost reverently.
If the white-haired McDermott seemed imposing to some now, it was also important to know that, before marrying Eugene, who died in 1973, she was Margaret Milam, a hard-working, ink-stained scribe for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She remembered those days during a rare speaking appearance I wrote about in 2015 for D CEO:
During her portion of the program, McDermott … recalled Dallas over the many decades she’s seen, beginning with the 1930s. Texas and the country were in a severe depression then, she recalled, so she was happy to land a job as society editor at The Dallas Morning News that paid $12.50 a week. During the 1940s she spent six years in war zones—mainly in Germany and Japan—and saw first-hand the devastation created by the fighting.
Her husband co-founded Texas Instruments in the early 1950s, McDermott went on—to which interviewer Mary Templeton [the wife of TI CEO Rich Templeton] quipped, “Good job!” to much laughter. McDermott also talked about the good works of former Dallas Mayor J. Erik Jonsson—another co-founder of TI—before coming full circle to Mike Rawlings, the current mayor, with whom she’d sat the night before at the Barbara Bush Foundation’s annual Celebration of Reading event at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
The remarkable woman who enriched the city with so many generous gifts is survived by her daughter, Mary McDermott Cook, and a grandaughter, Grace Ellen Cook. A memorial service will be held for her at the Meyerson.