Gen. Robert F. McDermott, known as McD to family, friends, and colleagues, had a profound impact on the business, education, and entertainment landscape of San Antonio.
The educator, scholar, author, fighter pilot, and business leader was first and foremost a gentleman, whose code of ethics and conduct are legendary in San Antonio.
McDermott, a Boston native, graduated from West Point and received a master's degree from Harvard University in 1950, making him the first military officer to earn a Harvard MBA. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a command pilot, staff officer, and professional educator.
President Eisenhower appointed him the Dean of Faculty for the first 10 graduating classes of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1956, and three years later, at just shy of 40 years of age, he became the youngest General in America's armed forces.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1968, he moved to San Antonio to become Chief Executive Officer of USAA. During his 25 years at the helm of USAA, the company grew from the 16th to the fifth largest insurer of private automobiles.
But McDermott's influence spread far beyond USAA.
In 1974, he was elected Chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and in 1975, to help bring new business to the city, he founded the Economic Development Foundation and served as its Chairman until 1980.
In the 1980s, he focused on developing biotechnology in San Antonio and founded the Texas Research and Technology Foundation, which developed the Texas Research Park. He was instrumental in working with the University of Texas Board of Regents to develop biotechnology facilities in San Antonio and to offer science and engineering programs at the doctoral level in support of biotechnology.
McDermott also served on St. Mary's University Board of Trustees from 1978-89 and was Chairman of the San Antonio Spurs from 1993-1996. With his leadership, Fiesta Texas and La Cantera were built in partnership with USAA.
He founded and chaired numerous national insurance industry trade associations and was frequently recognized for his business leadership in national publications. He was inducted Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the American National Business Hall of Fame in 1989.
In Northside, though, McDermott is known as the guiding force behind Business Careers High School, which today offers an enriched and focused curriculum to prepare students to succeed in business and related fields.
McDermott and his first wife Alice had five children. After his first wife passed away in 1990, McDermott married Marnie in 1994. Gen. McDermott passed away in 2006 at the age of 86.
Sources: Recorder Times, San Antonio Express-News, USAA