The Brook Hollow parking lot looked like the world’s most luxurious car lot with Bentleys, top-tier Mercedes and cousins like Range Rovers, Lexuses and Cadillacs on Tuesday, November 14. No, it wasn’t a glamorous car convention. It was the Center for BrainHealth’s Legacy Award Dinner honoring North Texas First Lady of Philanthropy Margaret McDermott.
While Margaret tends to shy away from pomp and circumstance recognition, the Brainiacs had three things going for her to agree:
- Margaret’s love for UT Dallas – of which Center for BrainHealth is a part,
- Margaret’s beloved late husband Eugene McDermott, who had co-founded UT Dallas with the late Erik Jonsson and Cecil Green in 1969 and
- BrainHealth Advisory Board Chair Debbie Francis’ husband, Jim Francis, who sealed the deal on getting Margaret’s blessing. Margaret had grown up in Highland Park with Jim’s uncles and, after the pair had laughed recounting old stories, she emphatically told Jim, “Let’s do it!” and the Legacy Dinner planning was underway.
With nearly 260 of toppest of the types like Edith and Peter O’Donnell, Lottye and Bobby Lyle, Linda Perryman Evans, Linda and Mitch Hart and Nancy Dedman, it was a true lovefest for the centenarian.
But then what else could one expect when Caren Prothro and Deedie Rose were chairing?
As guests arrived for the reception in the Oak Room, Center for BrainHealth Founder/Chief Director Sandi Chapman was there to greet with a smile, a twinkle and a hug.
And that hug wasn’t the only closeness of the evening. After being greeted by Sandi, it was a squeeze-athon rubbing shoulders, elbows and all body parts in the reception. The lady-of-the-hour held her own in front of the fireplace seated in her rolling throne… uh, wheelchair. Pity the poor servers who tried to wiggle their way with tray in hand through the boldface set.
And the conversation included retired Trinity Trust maven Gail Thomas was into painting. But instead of sweeping landscapes, she’s leaning toward more contemporary projects…. While Hobson Wildenthal was still receiving congratulations on his being recognized at the Dallas Historical Society’s Awards of Excellence in Community Services, his brother Kern Wildenthal was heading across the pond to present a paper on cardiology… One fundraising vet couple admitted that they were worn out. They had been to five evening events that week and were truly weary. They also admitted that they were surprised at the number of event taking place in November… Ross Perot Jr. congratulated the lady-of the hour McDermott, who had positioned her wheelchair in front of the fireplace. Others in the crowd included Mary Suhm, the Strauss sisters (Nancy Halbreich and Janie McGarr), Mary McDermott with Dan Patterson, Kaki and Shelton Hopkins, Lynne and Roy Sheldon, Lynn and John Sears, Rena Pederson, Sharon and Mike McCullough, Nancy Perot, Linda McFarland, Delilah and Sam Boyd, Susan and Joel Williams, Ka Cotter, Nelda Cain Pickens, Diane Sealy, Mary Jalonick, Jeanne Whitman Bobbitt, Nikki and Crayton Webb, Joan and Alan Walne, Jennifer and Keith Cerny, past Legacy Awardees (Jane and Bud Smith, James Huffines with wife Patty Huffines, Dee Wyly, Lyda Hill and Dan Branch with his wife Stacy) and McDermott Scholars (Dr. Eric Kildebeck, Drs. Jessie and Benedict Voit, Dr. Eric Kildebeck and Dr. Jonathan Coker).
Bypassing the guests jam in the Oak Room, former first lady Laura Bush arrived with little fanfare to congratulate Margaret, Caren, Deedie and her old pal/Legacy Awardee/BrainHealth Advisory Board Chair Debbie Francis.
With clipboards in hand, the BrainHealth staff wrangled the guests to follow the evening’s program. After being called to the ballroom for dinner by the chimes, some just couldn’t fully commit to the POA. They just wanted to stand around and chat. Ah, but the Brainiacs knew how to ease them into the plan. As three string musicians played in front of the stage in the ballroom, the signal was given and violinists entered playing. The errant guests got the message and took their seats.
UT Dallas President Dr. Richard Benson welcomed the guests and said that he wished he could show Eugene the modern-day version of the campus that he and Erik Jonsson and Cecil Green helped establish. He rattled off a list of impressive facts about the university, including its recent distinction as the Times Higher Education’s No. 1 university in the US established less than 50 years ago. “I have no doubt that Mr. McDermott, Mr. Jonsson and Mr. Green dreamed big – but I wonder if they could have dreamed that big?” Dr. Benson wondered.
He said that Margaret had carried on the founders’ tradition of inspiring others in a big way through the transformation and beautification of the campus, the establishment of the McDermott Scholars program, and most recently the establishment of a similar program for outstanding doctoral students at UT Dallas who will go on to careers in research.
Thanks to her involvement in carrying out Eugene’s vision, 222 past and current students have been chosen for The Eugene McDermott Scholars Program, which includes a full scholarship to UT Dallas.
It was interesting to note that in the evening’s printed program, the McDermott Scholars collectively expressed that Margaret had taught them to always pursue excellence while giving back to their community, calling her their “greatest champion, genuine friend, and true home away from home.”
Joining Margaret and her family at her table were McDermott Scholars Drs. Felicity and Walter Voit, who had created a living tribute to Margaret, naming their daughter—you guessed it—Margaret.
Following dinner and as dessert was served, Debbie Francis introduced a special tribute video celebrating Margaret’s positive influence on the city in which Mayor Mike Rawlings acknowledged “[Margaret] doesn’t want any credit; she wants to just keep giving back because she feels so thankful” and UT Dallas Executive VP Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, referred to her as a “chief executive of a major enterprise of doing wonderful things”.
Sandi joined Margaret at her table to officially present her with the 2017 Legacy Award saying “This will go down as one of the most magnificent nights in Dallas. Margaret, we are honored to bestow the Legacy Award to you this evening. You are immensely valued by everyone in this room. Your friendship and mentorship has inspired each of us. Thank you for letting us have a night to truly express our respect and love.”
Joining Sandi at Margaret’s table, past Legacy Award recipients Dan and Lyda welcomed her to the club saying, “Margaret, you make our hearts and minds sing.”
Lyda shared that Margaret had caught her mother’s wedding bouquet and dubbed Margaret the “Queen of Dallas.” As Lyda put it, Eugene made things happen at UT Dallas and in our city, but Margaret made things beautiful.
Despite the event’s masterminds assuring Margaret that she would not have to speak, she could not let the evening conclude without giving the last word. With her daughter, Mary, and granddaughter, Grace Cook, on either side, Margaret rose from her chair and expressed her gratitude for everyone in attendance and ended with a fitting cheer of “hooray for friends!”
For more photos of the evening’s gathering, check out MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.