Remembering Margaret McDermott (1912-2018)

The Dallas Symphony deeply mourns the loss of our dear friend and long-time benefactor, Mrs. Margaret McDermott. Across many decades, Mrs. McDermott was unequivocal in her love of the Dallas Symphony, its Music Directors and musicians. She embodied graciousness, generosity and determination and was a driving force who elevated the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from a point of civic pride to an ensemble applauded on the world’s stages.

Mrs. McDermott was a consistent presence at Dallas Symphony concerts, often wearing a white dress and sitting in the front row of Loge Box B in the concert hall named for her husband, the late Eugene McDermott. She insisted the orchestra always lead through its musical excellence and was a champion of education and new artistic initiatives. She led the way to create a financially sustainable and artistically vibrant organization for the region to enjoy for years to come, a treasure to be celebrated and enjoyed by all the citizens of Dallas.

“All of us at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and everyone who loves art and music are deeply saddened by the passing of our great friend and beloved benefactor Margaret McDermott,” said Dallas Symphony President & CEO Kim Noltemy. “The cultural landscape of our city and region has been elevated irrevocably through the decades of kindhearted philanthropy, unflagging generosity and civic vision expressed by Margaret and her late husband, Eugene McDermott.”

Mrs. McDermott died May 3, 2018, with her family and friends close by. She was 106 years old.

All of Dallas has been touched by Mrs. McDermott’s legacy and influence. Born Margaret Milam on February 18, 1912, she graduated from Highland Park High School, and in the 1930s, she was society editor of The Dallas Morning News.

In 1954, she married Eugene McDermott, who co-founded Geophysical Service, Inc. in 1930 – the predecessor of Texas Instruments. “Her marriage to Eugene McDermott … was the marriage of two like-minded souls,” wrote Alan Peppard, long-time society editor for The Dallas Morning News. Mr. McDermott died in 1973. Many of Mrs. McDermott’s named endowments honor her husband, including the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.

Mrs. McDermott’s many gifts – including those from the Eugene McDermott Foundation and the Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund – contributed to a significant reshaping of the arts in Dallas, both in the quality and significance of what is presented and in the ways in which patrons engage with that artistry. Nowhere is this more evident than through her efforts on behalf of the Dallas Symphony toward the construction of its home, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The tiered horseshoe configuration inspired by the legendary concert halls of Europe; the warm glow that greets visitors after they pass through the cool stone of the lobby; the massive sound canopy above the stage that contributes to an acoustical experience combining pristine clarity and enveloping warmth; and, most of all, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performing music that is monumental and sublime – this is a gift that will be enjoyed for decades to come.

Leading up to the Meyerson’s 1989 opening, Mrs. McDermott gave a gift to name the concert hall to honor her late husband. She was the first Chair of the Art Acquisition Committee, which placed works by important artists throughout the Meyerson. She helped secure, among other pieces, Ellsworth Kelly’s striking Dallas Panels (Blue Green Black Red) for the East Lobby and the monumental De Musica by Eduardo Chillida which greets visitors in the plaza outside the building on the west.

“I have always said that the Meyerson is an instrument of the orchestra, and it was through Margaret’s vision and generosity that we have such a wonderful musical home that sustains what we do today,” said Dallas Symphony Orchestra Music Director Jaap van Zweden. “I will cherish her presence at our concerts and in my home. Every time I come to the Meyerson now I will think of Margaret and all she meant to me and to the orchestra.”

McDermott also worked tirelessly behind the scenes to shape the Dallas Symphony’s present and future. She helped found the Dallas Symphony Foundation in 1978 by establishing the Gina Bachauer Memorial Fund and served on the Foundation’s Board of Directors from 1980. Mrs. McDermott was on the Dallas Symphony’s Board of Governors (1977-1981), serving as Vice Chair from 2017 until her passing, and was a member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra League in 1988-1989 and in 2004-2009. 

Mrs. McDermott’s generosity and spirit has had an incalculably positive effect on all arts, culture and civic ventures in Dallas. The second Calatrava-designed bridge spanning the Trinity River, a pair of graceful, parallel white arches, bears her name. She had a life-long love of art, and generously gave her time and treasured paintings to the Dallas Museum of Art. She attended the opera, and was a leading supporter of The Dallas Opera and AT&T Performing Arts Center. She believed in the power of education and backed the University of Texas at Dallas and The Hockaday School. She was a founding Vice-Chair and Board Trustee of the Dallas County Community College District.

“There is no one who will ever have quite the impact that Margaret had on Dallas,” said Sanjiv Yajnik, Chairman of the DSO Board of Governors.  “I am deeply honored to have known her and to have witnessed her spirit and passion for the arts.  My heart is heavy with her passing, and I will miss her terribly.”

The legacy of Margaret McDermott will be felt in Dallas forever. She has left her mark on the Dallas Symphony, the Dallas cultural community and the residents of the city she called home.