Margaret McDermott (1912-2018) and her husband, Eugene McDermott (1899–1973), were MIT’s greatest arts patrons and generous benefactors of the Institute. A geophysicist and co-founder of Texas Instruments, Eugene McDermott was a member of the MIT Corporation from 1960 to 1973. Although not an alumnus, he was passionate about MIT as a lab for creativity in all fields of study. Margaret was an advocate for the arts at MIT, in addition to her support for many arts organizations in Dallas and beyond.
Together, the McDermotts commissioned Eugene’s classmate and friend from the Stevens Institute of Technology, Alexander Calder, to create La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) for MIT’s campus, which was dedicated in 1966 on McDermott Court, facing the Green building. In 1976, the McDermott family and other friends of MIT made a gift of Three-Piece Reclining Figure, Draped, by Henry Moore, which graces Killian Court. The public art they brought to MIT demonstrates a conviction that the physical environment of a campus has great influence upon the character of an institution.
On April 14, 2018, MIT celebrated honoree actress and singer Audra McDonald, as the 2018 recipient of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT. This award honors Eugene and his recognition of the important role the arts play at the Institute. Created by the Council for the Arts at MIT in 1974 and further endowed by Margaret, the award recognizes innovative artistic talent. The award’s $100,000 annual prize and accompanying campus residency elevates the way artists and thinkers view MIT’s contributions to innovation and creativity.
After Eugene’s passing in 1973, Margaret continued to honor him and to celebrate the arts at MIT by supporting the Eugene McDermott Fund for the Arts and by bolstering it over the last few years. She cared deeply about sharing the dynamic work in the arts at MIT far beyond the campus.
In addition to supporting the arts, the McDermott scholarship fund helps ensure that students from Texas and the Southwest are able to attend MIT. Since 1960, the Eugene and Margaret McDermott Scholarship Fund has supported nearly 3,000 students. The McDermotts also endowed the Eugene McDermott Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a chair currently held by Tomaso Poggio.
Margaret McDermott received the Catherine N. Stratton Medal in the Arts in 2008. The award is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the Council for the Arts at MIT or the arts at MIT. For more than six decades, Margaret and Eugene McDermott served as Institute champions, whose impact can be seen through their incredible support for students, faculty, the arts, and the physical campus. In her autobiography, Reflections (2012), Margaret said that, “not only are MIT people different – the campus and town, Cambridge, are unforgettable. It’s a place of learning, with knowledge [and] accomplishments that have changed our world.”