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Emma Jane Davis McDermott
“This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” These words were spoken every morning by Emma Jane Davis McDermott, who peacefully departed this life December 16, 2010, at age 88. The words are testament to the positive grace with which she faced life. She was a true southern genteel lady who faced adversity with strength and humor, who walked the talk of active Christian values. She will be greatly missed by her loving family and numerous friends.
A resident of Manteo, NC, Emma Jane, “E.J.” was born Feb. 9, 1922 in South Norfolk, VA. Her parents were the Honorable Q.C Davis, Jr., and Lola Diggs Davis. She was married for fifty years to the late Rev. William L. “Billy Mac” McDermott. E.J.’s life was a glorious journey from a childhood filled with colorful stories of her judge, mayor, and Virginia delegate father and her boisterous siblings, to marrying her college art professor, being the mother of four children, grandmother, great-grandmother, and having several careers—as well as being a Brownie and Girl Scout leader many times over.
E.J. graduated from South Norfolk High School in Chesapeake, VA in 1938. She attended William & Mary College (Norfolk division), and graduated from Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, with a B.A. in Education (English, Social Studies) in 1942. A month later she married her art professor. The two’s courtship had been kept secret via notes hidden and passed in text books. The Dean of Students held the engagement ring until E.J.’s graduation.
From Fredericksburg, the McDermott’s moved to Rock Hill, SC in 1947 for Billy Mac to become head of the art department of Winthrop College. There E.J. began her teaching career. She so impressed her American Gov’t student G.I.’s with her political acumen that they urged and convinced her to run for the S.C. House of Representatives. In 1953 she was the first mother to be elected to that office, having run on a platform of nursing home reform. She founded the Jr. Women’s Club of Rock Hill, and was its first president. In the late ’60’s her husband was ordained into the Episcopal priesthood. After two years at his first church, Trinity, in Abbeville, SC, they moved to Glasgow, VA in 1970 where he became rector of St. John’s, Glasgow. The family would live there for the next 22 years.
In 1972 she became Supervisor of Circulations at Washington & Lee Univ. Law Library in Lexington, VA, during which time she indulged in her long held desire to study law enrolling part time as a law student. Later she became Director of Alumnae and Public Relations at Southern Sem. Jr. College (now Southern Virginia University) in Buena Vista, VA. In 1981 she and Billy Mac moved to Raleigh, NC when she was hired to be Director of Annual Funds for St. Mary’s College. At this time she was also full time care giver for her husband who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease. In 1983 she and Billy Mac returned to Glasgow, VA where she opened and ran Creative Dimensions, a hand-made crafts store with her friend Jean Taylor in Lexington, VA, until 1984 when she became regional director for the American Lung Assoc. of Virginia. For the next several years she worked between the American Lung Assoc. and St. Mary’s College.
The McDermott’s fell in love with the Outer Banks in 1962 when the entire family was involved with “The Lost Colony”. The dream to someday live there became reality in ’92, one month before Billy Mac passed away. From that point on E.J. made a new life for herself in OBX, first hostessing at Clara’s Restaurant in Manteo, and later as a coordinator for Tar Heel Home Health. She accepted an appointment on the Governor’s Panel on the Aging, and from ’93 to ’95 was once again an ardent advocate for senior citizens. She then “retired”. Having taught herself to sew at the age of 9, she put her expert sewing and tailoring skills to work making her renowned custom-made vests. She enjoyed travelling. Her home known as Angel’s Folly became a haven for family and friends under the tender care of E.J.’s expert gardening, cooking, entertaining, and the whimsical gaze of a vast collection of angels, frogs, and art work. Many will remember her for her unique and amazing “warble”, a whistle that contained harmonics and surrounded your heart with love. But mostly she will be remembered for making you feel like the most important person in the world through the loving light radiating from her vivacious eyes and embraceable smile.
She is survived by her four children, Lola Davis-Jones and husband Bryan of Collington Harbor, NC; Emma Jane Julie Imeson and husband Tom of Manteo, NC; William L. McDermott, Jr. and wife Patti of Nags Head, NC; Lucinda M. Piro and husband Jonathan of Radford, VA; sister, Rose Morrisette of Ocean View, VA; grandchildren William R. Bonsal, III, of Niskayuna, NY, Veda E. Renfrow of Raleigh, NC, Emma Parnell-Klabo of Richmond, VA, Sidney C. Parnell II, of Kitty Hawk, NC, Thomas C. McDermott of Norfolk, VA, Willa R. Piro and Dante L. Piro of Radford, VA; great grandchild Davis A. Klabo of Richmond, VA; Step children, Nancyanne Welsh and her children, Thomas C. Imeson, III, and his children, Susan L. Harlan and her children; sisters-in-law Mrs. Thelma Creef Davis, and Mrs. Janet Rowe Davis; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. In addition there are many friends who E.J. treasured as family. Her loving presence and ability to light up any room or occasion will be missed, but all who knew her are forever blessed with her shining example of a life well lived.
She is predeceased by husband Rev. William L. McDermott; siblings Virginia Davis Knowleton, Q.C. Davis, III, and Jefferson Davis.
The family will receive friends Tuesday December 28, 2010 from 6 to 9 pm at the Imeson home, 128 Sunnyside Drive, Manteo, NC. A memorial service will be held Wednesday December 29, 2010 at noon at St. Andrew’s by the Sea 4212 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC. A reception will follow at the church. Memorial donations may be made to Dare Home Health and Hospice PO Box 1000, Manteo, NC 27954 in memory of Emma Jane McDermott.
Condolences to the family may be expressed via the on-line register www.gallopfuneralservices.com. Gallop Funeral Services, Inc. was entrusted with arrangements.