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Cathy McDermott: A Remembrance

Cathy McDermott, July 4, 2016

Cathy McDermott, July 4, 2016

Last July 14, longtime MdHS volunteer and member of the library committee Cathy M. McDermott passed away. On April 14, 2018 the Special Collections Department was named in her honor. Reference librarian Francis O’Neill provides the following remembrance:

At this point I’m a little vague on the “when”, but I’m very clear on the “why” and the “how” of Cathy McDermott’s initial contact with the Maryland Historical Society. Like lots of Baltimoreans, she wanted to learn the history of her house (in her case, a brick product of the Gilded Age in Mount Vernon), and she came in on a busy Saturday afternoon to see what we could do for her in that regard.

Now, this was quite a while ago well before the “we-can-document-any-house-in-the-neighborhood” situation of the present day and after a certain amount of rummaging around, I had to confess myself stymied. Well, the temperature of the space between us dropped precipitously, and when she left the library, I never thought to see her again. Little did I know.

A few weekends later she was back, having determined from our online catalog that we had the papers of the family of the woman who had owned the house for almost half a century after its construction. For months thereafter she diligently read her way through them, Saturday after Saturday, in search of details on her house, pausing only occasionally to fix me with a frosty stare. My colleagues naturally were delighted, not so much (I hasten to add) by my discomfiture as by the presence of one so devoted to a manuscript collection that frankly had not gotten much attention before that time. David Angerhofer in particular took a shine to her, and when the opportunity arose to process an even less prepossessing collection, he, having learned that Cathy then was between jobs, signed her up to help him arrange the extremely dusty records of the Baltimore Equitable Society.

PlaqueMockup2 (3)After that, I saw my nemesis every day rather than every week. Like a character in “The Hunting of the Snark,” I tried to charm her with smiles and with soap, but I also relied heavily on factoids relating to the Baltimore coffee trade and Confederate expatriates in imperial Brazil, both fields relating to her house’s history. Little by little I worked my way back into her good graces, but not as quickly as she made herself integral to our library. By the end of her work with the insurance company’s records, she knew where everything was in our Special Collections Division and knew (more importantly) what there was useful for any purpose one might care to name.

We staff members thought of Cathy as one of us, and she proved that she felt the same when, having come back as a Saturday volunteer after having gone back to full time work elsewhere, she and David Angerhofer called the police on a library visitor who turned out to have robbed, not only our library, but libraries and archives around the United States. Having sent the miscreant up the river, she then paid for the security cameras in the library which now so greatly lessen the chances that we’ll ever be plundered in the same way again. All this while pursuing the manifold activities beyond our walls about which you will have read elsewhere.

Cathy was still volunteering on a weekly basis in our library up to a week before her death. We will no, we already do miss her sadly.

(Francis O’Neill)

Discussion

2 Responses to “Cathy McDermott: A Remembrance”

  1. I think Cathy would have loved this tribute, Francis. Well said.

    Posted by Elisabeth | 06. Jul, 2018, 1:43 pm
  2. Cathy was a terrific volunteer and a wonderful person. I recall that she faithfully and uncomplainingly brushed years of coal dust off tens of thousands of Equitable insurance policies. Francis, I’m pretty sure she also thawed towards you not just because of your charm and factoids but also because she saw how helpful you try to be to everyone who comes into the library. In any case, naming Special Collections for her is a lovely and appropriate way to honor her.

    Posted by Bea Hardy | 07. Jul, 2018, 10:40 am

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