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Dallas History

Early Influencers: Margaret McDermott Was The Dallas Changemaker

The philanthropic giant donated 3,100 works of art and millions in education, architectural and health funding to support Dallas.
By Jenny Rudolph |
Margaret McDermott and Margaret Perot
Courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Andy Hanson Photographs
Margaret McDermott | February 18, 1912—May 3, 2018

Dubbed the “grand dame of Dallas,” Margaret McDermott spent years serving the city of Dallas as a dedicated supporter of the arts, nature, architecture, health, and education. McDermott was widely recognized as one of Dallas’ most dedicated philanthropists by leaders such as former Mayor Mike Rawlings and former President George W. Bush. Her service was honored by the naming of the Margaret McDermott Bridge over Trinity River.

“My part is so little compared to what everyone else is doing, but I am glad to say thank you, everybody,’” McDermott said at the bridge’s opening in 2013.

Born in Austin, Texas in 1912, McDermott began her career covering debutant balls and charity events as a 1930s society journalist for the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald. She spent the beginning of her career covering many of the events she would later spend years funding and supporting.

In 1952, she married Eugene McDermott, co-founder of Geophysical Service, which went on to become Texas Instruments. The couple dedicated their lives to philanthropic service, donating millions to the University of Texas at Dallas, the Dallas Museum of Art, and countless other arts, education, and science initiatives.

After her husband’s passing in 1973, Mrs. McDermott donated $32 million to establish the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program, which has provided scholarships and leadership training to UTD students. In recognition of her support, she was awarded the Santa Rita Award, the UT system’s greatest philanthropy honor.

“Margaret McDermott was a singularly impressive human being in every dimension: indefatigably energetic and persistent, focused on and dedicated to lofty goals, and immensely elegant and gracious,” Executive Vice President Hobson Wildenthal told UT Dallas. “She clearly took as her mission the continuation of Eugene McDermott’s own dedication to benefiting humanity through research and education and expanded that vision to include the benefits of great art and music.”

Her passion for the arts led to her donation of more than 3,100 works of art to the Dallas Museum of Art. The DMA credits McDermott as being the single largest philanthropist to gift pieces of art and provide financial support to the museum.

Her $3 million donation to the AT&T Performing Arts Center was recognized by the naming of the Margaret McDermott Performance Hall inside the Winspear Opera House. McDermott went on to donate millions in architectural funding the transform the city of Dallas

“She epitomized everything great about Dallas in the last century,” former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told the Dallas Morning News. “Those of us who knew her marveled at her generosity of spirit, her philanthropy, her love of new friends, especially young people, and her intelligent, to-the-point questions. For me, she was and always will be the grande dame of Dallas.”

McDermott passed away in May of 2018 at the remarkable age of 106. Survived by her daughter, Mary McDermott Cook, and her granddaughter, McDermott’s death was felt by many Dallas leaders, friends, schools, organizations, and loved ones.

“A magnificent lady has passed in Margaret McDermott,” said former President George W. Bush in an interview with the George W. Bush Center. “Mrs. McDermott had a brilliant mind and a special soul. Her kindness and philanthropy will be felt throughout the ages in Dallas. Her loss will be felt by many too.”


Jenny Rudolph

Jenny Rudolph

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