Harriett (Woodham) McDermott
December 27, 1933 – June 6, 2018
Harriett McDermott lived a life filled with family, people, and activities. She was born in Skipperville, Alabama, a small farming community in the southeast corner of the state where generations of her family had lived since the 18th century. Her mother, Mary Frances, came from a family of 18 children and her father, Leslie, a family of seven. Harriett grew up surrounded by a large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Family formed the basis of community; so much so that when Harriett was an infant and her Aunt Maude became ill, Mary Frances nursed and cared for Harriett’s first cousin Jeanne as though Jeanne and Harriett were twins. Harriett’s parents were farmers during a time of economic hardship. Harriett with her older brother, Marion, and younger sister, Sylvia, stayed active helping with all of the chores and challenges of farm life and during Leslie’s deployment to the European Theater of Operations during World War II. Harriett’s productivity lasted throughout her life as she set and accomplished many personal and career goals and stayed busy with innumerable interests, hobbies, and charities.
Harriett graduated from Dale County High School, where she was active in the Future Teachers of America, in 1952 and set her sights on becoming a teacher.
While on a break from her studies at Troy State College, Harriett was introduced to a handsome Army Lieutenant, Francis Patrick “Pat” McDermott, from Jamaica, Iowa who was completing his flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Pat could not resist Harriett’s southern charm and stunning beauty. After a year-long courtship, Harriett, who had grown up in the Missionary Baptist tradition, converted to Catholicism, a faith she took on with utter enthusiasm and a faith that remained a major source of happiness and purpose for the rest of her life. Pat and Harriett were married at Saint Columba Catholic Church in Dothan, AL and began a life-long partnership that lasted more than 60 years. This relationship and marital collaboration was critical to Pat’s successful career as an Army officer. Their family increased as Harriett and Pat transferred from one assignment to the next. The family of two was stationed first at Fort Holabird, Maryland where Mary Colleen was born, then to Germany where Patrick Kevin was born, returning to Fort Rucker for the birth of John Francis and, after an assignment in Kansas, back to Rucker for the birth of their fourth child, Anne Cecilia.
Harriett was the quintessential Army wife, charming, conscientious, and devoted to her husband’s career. She maintained the routines and responsibilities of family life as the family transferred from post to post and as Pat was deployed overseas three times, two of which were combat tours to Vietnam. Harriett created and maintained lovely homes, always beautifully decorated with gardens she tended herself. She hosted frequent parties and teas, serving homemade refreshments presented elegantly on china and silver. Her husband often expressed his pride in Harriett’s contribution to his success as the family grew and he became more professionally successful.
Even with being actively involved in the many activities of her young children, Harriett was active in community life. Harriett was a leader for Mary’s Girl Scout troop, dragging Patrick and John to the yearly summer camp as “adventurers.” She taught catechism on Saturday mornings and was active in the church. She was a Red Cross volunteer, serving for as the local chapter’s president. She generously shared her time volunteering to be a classroom mom or helping sew costumes for plays.
Despite her many activities, Harriett did not forget about her early ambition to become a teacher. When Anne started school in Manahan, Kansas, Harriett returned to college and completed her bachelor’s degree in teaching at Kansas State University. Harriett started her teaching career as first grade teacher in Manhattan and loved it. After 30 years in the Army, Pat retired, and the family returned to Clarksville, Tennessee, where Harriett resumed her teaching career and taught 5th grade for 16 years at Burt Elementary School. Harriett loved teaching. She was especially good with troubled children and her principal confidently relied on her to take problematic children into her classroom where Harriett had success helping them. While at Burt School, Harriett was named Teacher of the Year several times and served as the school’s representative to the NEA convention. Harriett looked back on her years as a teacher a Burt elementary with great fondness—displaying a painting of the school in her bedroom.
Harriett came out of retirement from the public school system to teach at the newly started St. Mary’s Catholic School in Clarksville. At the age of 70, she was happy to be back in the classroom. Harriett loved those children and that love was clearly reciprocated.
Once Harriett finally retired from teaching, she stayed active and involved at Immaculate Conception Church, even working at the soup kitchen once a week. She enjoyed the pleasure of a book group and an investment club. A highpoint in her life was a pilgrimage to Medjugorge. Until the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease began to take their toll, she continued to play bridge and to complete a crossword puzzle daily.
Over the past eleven years, until Pat died in November 2016, Harriett and Pat resided in homes in both Clarksville, Tennessee and Tampa, Florida where they enjoyed the visits of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. In November 2017, Harriett moved to Neuvant House, a Memory Care facility in Lawrence, Kansas, just blocks away from her son, John, and his family. Harriett was close to her family during her final stage of life. Harriett Ann Woodham McDermott was always there for her family, her during her final stage of life. Harriett Ann Woodham McDermott was always there for her family, her friends, her church, and her students. She will be missed.
Harriett was preceded in death by her husband, Pat, and her daughter, Anne. She is survived by her sister, Sylvia (Dothan, AL); her daughter Mary Yarnall (White Plains, NY) and her husband, Tom and their son, Matthew; her son Patrick (Tampa, FL) and his wife Amy and their children Patrick, Markie, and Michael; her son John (Lawrence, KS) and his wife, Pam and their children Alexandra, Johnny, Joshua, Sarah, Zachary and grandchildren Devyn and Dakota; and her granddaughter by Anne, Cecilia Lavoie (Nashville, TN.)
The family wants to express its most sincere appreciation to the management and staff of Neuvant House of Lawrence for the exceptional care they took of Harriett over the last few months and to Great Lakes Caring Hospice for the love they showed Harriett in the final days of her life.
Harriett’s family will attend a Memorial Mass for Harriett at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarksville, Tennessee at 11 am on Saturday, 9 June. Burial will be alongside her husband at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida at a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, Harriett’s family asks you to spend quality time with your family and make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
- Memorial Catholic Mass Saturday, June 9, 2018