The McDermott Legacy
Margaret McDermott was passionate about The University of Texas at Dallas. The impact of her philanthropy has forever transformed the young institution that was co-founded by her husband, Eugene McDermott. Distinctive landscaping and outdoor spaces, art installations, and an increasingly accomplished, competitive student body are hallmarks of the McDermott legacy.
The pre-eminent private benefactor of the University, Margaret McDermott donated $32 million in 2000 to establish the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program. The program attracts bright students from around the world with both its academic curriculum and its focus on experiential learning. From the beginning, McDermott made it a priority to engage the scholars by hosting them at an annual cookout and weekly lunches at her ranch in Allen. Service, study abroad and arts-engagement components remain central to the program, which now numbers more than 300 current and former scholars.
Margaret McDermott poses with her husband, UT Dallas co-founder Eugene McDermott, a Brooklyn-born geophysicist who was chairman of Texas Instruments, Inc. He died in 1973; she passed away in May 2018.
The significant investment in people also extended to the creation of the Eugene McDermott Graduate Fellows Program in 2014 as an analog to the undergraduate program. Her generosity also made possible several faculty chairs, professorships and fellows and the naming of the University’s Hobson Wildenthal Honors College, which honors Wildenthal, executive vice president and the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair of Academic Leadership.
A Campus Transformed
Tangible examples of the McDermott legacy can be seen during a walk around campus. Once defined by Brutalist concrete façades and the gray ambience of corporate buildings, UT Dallas was transformed with a Campus Landscape Enhancement Project, with funds from McDermott totaling more than $50 million.
Architect Peter Walker shaped the overhaul that began in 2008. More than 5,000 trees and shrubs were planted. Hallmarks of the project are the five reflecting pools and the wisteria-covered steel trellis that is located outside of the Eugene McDermott Library. Aptly, the UT System Board of Regents recently approved the naming of this focal point for campus activity as the Margaret McDermott Mall and Margaret McDermott Trellis Plaza.
One of McDermott’s great interests — the visual arts — found a home on campus. She funded permanent installations, including the Love Jack that is now displayed outside of the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building. In 2017 she endowed the Richard Brettell Award in the Arts, which annually recognizes an artist with a lifetime-achievement award.
The McDermott legacy has changed UT Dallas and will continue to do so.
“It is impossible to know what we would have become as a University without the unwavering support of the Eugene McDermott family,” Wildenthal said. “The effects of their legacy will reverberate for decades to come.”