In Memoriam: John J. McDermott (1932 – 2018)

For Immediate Release

American Montessori Society
116 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003-2163

John McDermottProfessor John J. McDermott, 86, died Sunday, September 30, 2018.

Born January 5, 1932 in New York City, McDermott was a distinguished American philosopher and educator who received recognition at national, state, and university levels for his “gifted teaching.” Described by AMS founder Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch as the creator of the American Montessori Movement, he reflected on the state of education and the significance of its philosophical underpinnings for over half a century. The topic of caring for children remained a constant throughout his life, for which he was continuously recognized by the Montessori community.

McDermott earned his undergraduate degree from St. Francis College, and received his doctorate “with great distinction” from Fordham University. He taught at Queens College, CUNY, Fordham University, and Stony Brook University, SUNY, prior to becoming University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Humanities in Medicine at Texas A&M University. There, he was also Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence, Regents Professor, and recognized as the Minnie Stevens Foundation’s Piper Professor. Furthermore, he founded the Department of Humanities in Medicine and the Community of Faculty Retirees.

McDermott received 4 awards from the Association of Former Students—2 in research and 2 in teaching. He was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Award from the College of Liberal Arts, was named a Harbison Award Winner in 1969, and was nominated as 1 of the 10 most gifted teachers in the nation by the Danforth Foundation. McDermott was also acknowledged as 1 of the 50 most influential living philosophers in the world by in 2016. An early member of the Board of Directors of the American Montessori Society, he was named the first Distinguished Fellow of the Society in 1980. McDermott was also a founder, co-founder, or served as a lifetime fellow in 5 major American Philosophy societies.

As a young college instructor steeped in the philosophies of William James and John Dewey, McDermott was already calling on American Montessori educators in the early 1960s to re-examine Montessori’s theories and allow the method to evolve in the context of American practice. While teaching at Queens College, CUNY, he was invited by Nancy Rambusch to help instruct Montessori teachers-in-training. He became the AMS “in-house” philosopher, lecturing there on Friday afternoons and visiting AMS programs throughout the nation. In 2006, he gave the Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch Lecture at AMS’s annual conference, in Houston, TX. In addition, in 2017, McDermott became the first recipient of AMS’s Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch Pioneering Award in 2017, for his significant advances in raising the profile of Montessori education.

McDermott gave hundreds of presentations, worldwide, and is the author-editor of many books, essays, and commentaries on the philosophy of culture, as for example, the “Introduction” to Maria Montessori’s Spontaneous Activity in Education. His writings cover topics as broad and diverse as aesthetics, social philosophy, philosophy of education, the philosophy of medicine, and the history of philosophy.

McDermott is survived by his beloved companion of 36 years and wife of 27, Patricia McDermott; 5 children: Marise, Michele, David, Brian, and Tara; 1 step-daughter, Lynne Elizabeth; 6 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild; and numerous nieces and nephews. He is the brother of 5 siblings: Mary, Ann, Joe, Robert, and Raymond. He was predeceased by his parents, John J. and Helen Kelly McDermott, and by his granddaughter Maia Felisse.

He offers deep gratitude to Virginia P. McDermott for the splendid care of their 5 children for more than 65 years.

He is also grateful to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and to Patricia McDermott; at his death, he was proudly in his thirtieth year of continuous sobriety.

McDermott’s utmost dedication to the worlds of education and philosophy endeared him to many. As a distinguished member of our community, he will be greatly missed.

Memorial contributions are being collected in his memory for the “John J. McDermott Fellowship in Humanities” endowment at the Texas A&M Foundation. Gifts can be made by check to 401 George Bush Dr, College Station, TX 77840 or online via Please include the endowment name in gift notations.

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