Ask community leaders Margaret McDermott and Ruth Sharp Altshuler about “the genesis of Dallas philanthropy,” and they’re both apt to point to the attitude of the city’s citizens. Leading by example has always been the guidepost, Altshuler says. And McDermott quotes Mayor Mike Rawlings, who recently told her, “The wonderful thing in Dallas is the people who work so hard, who do so much. The hard-working people.”
Altshuler and McDermott talked about Dallas and its philanthropic bent yesterday during a rare joint interview before more than 180 people at October’s Second Tuesday Luncheon of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Ruth Sharp Altshuler Tocqueville Society. The audience at the Rosewood Crescent Hotel was the biggest ever for a Second Tuesday luncheon of the society, which consists of members who give $10,000 or more annually to United Way.
Interviewed onstage by Mary Templeton, the wife of Texas Instruments CEO Rich Templeton and a community leader in her own right, McDermott and Altshuler recalled their many decades of philanthropic work for a rapt, appreciative audience. McDermott and her late husband, Eugene McDermott, the co-founder of TI, in 1955 established the McDermott Foundation, which has donated tens of millions of dollars over the years for cultural, educational, and social inititives. Altshuler, among many honors and accomplishments, was the first woman chair of the Southern Methodist University board of trustees and the first female chair of a North Texas United Way campaign.
Her philanthropic inspiration, Altshuler said, was the theologian and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, who said: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing.” Her own example, Altshuler explained, came from her parents and especially from her father, who grew up in modest circumstances before marrying Altshuler’s “perfect” mother and moving to Dallas.
In North Texas, Altshuler said, her father became close with George W. Truett, the legendary pastor at Dallas’ First Baptist Church, who tapped the young man to be a deacon and to pledge—in a public forum—how much he would donate to the church’s capital campaign. “My dad stood up and said, ‘$5,000!’” Altshuler recalled—a considerable sum in those days. “And mother said, ‘Oooohhh.’ She cried all the way home. She asked him, ‘Where are we going to get $5,000? We don’t have $5!’” Her father replied that he was going to go the bank the next day and borrow the money. Concluded Altshuler: “That’s the kind of example I had!”
During her portion of the program, McDermott, who’s 103, 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 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 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. “I asked him, how are you enjoying what you’re doing?” McDermott said. “And he said, ‘It’s better this year than it was last year!’ ”
Presented by EY, Tuesday’s luncheon attracted a crowd of heavy-hitting business and civic leaders including Doug Hawthorne, Lyda Hill, Chuck Gummer, Gene Jones, Caren and Pete Kline, Margot Perot, Jason Downing, Caren Prothro, and Lynn McBee. During her opening remarks Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO of the local United Way, pointed out that the crowd of 180-plus topped by “25 percent” the previous largest Second Tuesday Luncheon, which had been headlined by former Dallas Cowboys Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. “I think we know who the real rock stars are,” Sampson said, looking over at McDermott and Altshuler and laughing.
Separately, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas also announced news in two initiatives funded at least partly by EY and Texas Instruments.
In the first, bankrolled with seed funding from EY and AT&T and others, the agency said four new social innovation startups would receive a combined $315,000 in the third year of its GroundFloor Fellows accelerator program. The four are Eat the Yard, an urban farming business specializing in healthy food, which received $160,000 in seed funding; Adaptive Training Foundation, which works with the physically impaired, especially veterans (it got $70,000); Equal Heart, a mobile food access network ($60,000); and the North Texas Principal Fellows Program, which works to reduce turnover among school principals ($25,000). The new Fellows also will be provided with collaborative working space at The Grove co-working space under a new partnership, United Way said.
In the second initiative, it was announced that Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett would team up with the local United Way and Texas Instruments to promote a volunteer-led “STEM in the Schoolyard” event. The Oct. 19 event will engage students at the Richardson ISD’s Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet School in science, technology, engineering, and math education learning projects. The interactive, “STEM in the Schoolyard” program will mark the launch of the United Way’s “Unite for Change” Community Impact Series, a six-month-long effort focusing on improving education, financial stability, and health across North Texas. TI is the series’ presenting sponsor.