Rice farmer Gerald L. McDermott creates $1.5 million estate gift
The members of what has become known as the “greatest generation” are revered for their willingness to interrupt their lives to come to the aid of their nation on the field of battle. One such American was Gerald L. McDermott, who left his family’s home in rural Maxwell, Calif., as a young man to serve as a tail gunner in North Africa with the 319th Bombardment Group, which during World War II was decorated with two Distinguished Unit Citations.
Later in life, McDermott again answered a call – this time to advance health care by helping fund medical education. McDermott, who died in 2009, made a $1.5 million estate gift to the UC Davis Department of Internal Medicine. It likely will evolve into an endowed fund that leads to creation of an endowed chair in prostate cancer research under the direction of Frederick J. Meyers, M.D., M.A.C.P., who oversaw McDermott’s health care for 18 years. The endowment will furnish funding annually for two medical students to conduct medical research under the direction of Meyers, who guided the UC Davis Department of Internal Medicine for 12 years before becoming the school’s executive associate dean in May 2009. McDermott also donated a $100,000 annuity, which resulted in a $36,000 gift last year.
Gerald McDermott was born and raised in the small rice farming town of Maxwell, about 70 miles northwest of Sacramento in Colusa County. His grandfather James McDermott had established the family’s rice farm, and it was passed down to Gerald’s parents, Melvin and Ivy Ruby. They lost everything during the Great Depression and were in the process of re-building by raising rice and turkeys when World War II broke out.
When Gerald’s mother became frail, the family hired a young woman, Beth Johnson, to stay at the McDermott home to care for her. McDermott and Johnson took a liking to each other, started dating and eventually became lifelong companions. They met often for lunch at the Maxwell Inn. They began spending weekends in Reno together and, on one memorable vacation trip, took a cruise ship to Mexico. McDermott continued farming the land. They derived much pleasure from spending time together with Johnson’s seven grandchildren.
Fred Meyers became McDermott’s physician in 1992, and a fast friendship developed between them. Johnson speaks glowingly about Meyers’ attentiveness.
“Even after medical treatment was complete, Dr. Meyers would call and visit often, normally accompanied by his wife, Linda,” Johnson said. “Gerald was so precious to me and to my entire family. Both he and I were grateful to Dr. Meyers and to the UC Davis Medical Center for their outstanding care he received through the years.”
She said that McDermott valued Meyers’ friendship as much as his medical acumen.
“Dr. Meyers helped save Gerald’s life from cancer, and remained Gerald’s close friend for the last 15 years of his life,” Johnson added.
The friendship between the two men emanated from mutual respect. McDermott’s World War II bravery brings to mind President Harry S. Truman’s observation that “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
Meyers achieved prominence as a nationally respected expert in hematology and oncology, and as an influential specialist in cancer molecular biology, metastatic cancer, and end-of-life care and pain management. The American Cancer Society named Meyers the recipient of the organization’s prestigious 2010 Lane Adams Quality of Life Award, which recognizes excellence in “of compassionate care and support to individuals with cancer.” Such was the care that Meyers gave to McDermott. The award is named for Lane W. Adams, a former executive vice president of the society, who established the award in 1985. Meyers said that McDermott will be remembered in perpetuity for creation of his legacy gifts.
“Gerald McDermott was a true hero, not only for his military service, but also for his altruism in making his visionary gifts. I am proud to have known him as a patient and I will always retain fond memories of him as a friend,” Meyers said. “Through the generosity of his gift, medical students and other grateful patients will come to know him as well.”