Margaret McDermott

The school benefactor helped elevate St. Mark’s to national acclaim.

Margaret McDermott is pushed into Headmaster David Dini’s house by a group of seniors from the Class of 2015. This photo, which hangs in the Headmaster’s office across from his desk, became my inspiration for the opening of the story.

When Headmaster David Dini sits at his desk and looks straight ahead, he sees one picture. In it, four boys in blue shirts stroll up the front walkway of a house on Norway Rd.

The two in back carry on a conversation as Dini and his wife follow behind. The young man in the middle, Carrington Kyle ’15 looks around the shoulders of Nathan Ondracek ’15. Ondracek pushes a woman in a wheelchair. He leans over to listen to the woman as she turns back and begins to tell a story.

Since Mason Smith ’15 took that photo three years ago, it has continued to hang on the wall of Dini’s office, holding a deeper meaning than most students, faculty or staff will ever understand.

The moment Smith captured in that photo will forever enshrine the legacy Margaret McDermott left not only the school, but also the world. A lasting legacy of wisdom, care, love. A legacy like no other.

•••

McDermott passed away early in the morning May 3 at the age of 106. She left behind a daughter, Mary McDermott Cook, among other family. But in addition to her loved ones, McDermott left something more.

Colleges. Libraries. Scholarships. All around the U.S, all around the world. They all bear one name: McDermott.

Here, the name can be found across campus. Along with her husband, Eugene McDermott, a co-founder of Texas Instruments, the two helped to elevate the school to its standing among the best in the nation.

At 10600 Preston Rd., the McDermott-Green Math Science Quadrangle, the Eugene McDermott Headmaster’s Suite and the positions of Eugene McDermott Headmaster and Eugene McDermott Master Teaching Chair in Science all stem from the same name.

The McDermotts’ total contributions go well beyond that, including gifts to fund the construction of Centennial Hall and one of the largest contributions to the school’s financial aid fund.

They all stem from seven decades of devotion by a husband and wife to transforming a private school in North Texas into one of the country’s premier high schools.

Dini believes the school, its students and its faculty will forever be indebted to the McDermotts, Margaret and Eugene alike, for ushering the school down the path it continues on today.

“You could just go on and on and on,” Dini said of the McDermotts’ contributions to the school. “There’s just so much there, so much depth, so much history. She is forever intertwined with the history of this place. She’s shaped it, supported it, cared for it, nurtured it. We’re the lucky beneficiaries of it. Those that will come after us will also benefit from it for a long time.”

Over his more than two decades working at the school, Dini had the opportunity to get to know Margaret McDermott personally, especially after he took over as headmaster in 2014.

“Any chance you had to be with her was time you just soaked up and cherished because you realized how special it was,” Dini said.

After her husband passed away in 1973, McDermott continued to carry on her husband’s mission, a key part, according to Dini, of their mission throughout their lives.

“You could tell she felt such a tremendous sense of devotion,” Dini said, “partly because she cared herself, but partly because she was caring for this vision her husband had for St. Mark’s.”

This, Dini said, is emblematic of their mission not just here, but across the city, country and even the world.

“They knew and understood that education was important to the wellbeing of the common good, the public good,” Dini said. “You could go to countries all over the world and see the tentacles of that philanthropy and see that commitment to the public good, the common good. Go anywhere, and you see that name and its programs, its people, its facilities. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Despite all she’s done for the school, Dini won’t remember McDermott because her last name is emblazoned on the science building or even just outside his office. He’ll remember her because of how she touched the lives of those in every community she was a part of, especially his.

When Dini was moving into the headmaster’s residence in 2014, the house was ready for some renovations. McDermott insisted on coming to visit to take a look around.

A mere 102 years old at the time, she went around the house, inspecting every room, every wall with care. But as she was on her way out, she handed Dini a white envelope.

Dini helped her into the car and watched her drive off. When he got back inside, he opened that envelope.

Inside, a check to pay for all of the renovations. Everything. She wouldn’t ever get to reap any rewards from that money. It was just a gift for a friend.

That gesture is by no means a one-off. The McDermotts never had a son. So though they gave the school millions over the course of more than 70 years, Margaret and Eugene never benefited directly from their generosity at 10600 Preston Rd. It was all for the good of the community, the students, the teachers and everyone in between.

“That’s just the kind of person that she was,” Dini said. “She wanted to make good things happen for people. And the fact that, in her later years, she was confined to a wheelchair, that didn’t slow her down at all. She lived life to the fullest right down to the very end.”