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Status Report, Vol. 41, No. 8 | October 7, 2006 Subscribe

Robert McDermott, strong champion of the Institute since the 1980s

Brigadier General Robert F. McDermott will be remembered for multiple accomplishments in his Air Force career and subsequent tenure as chairman of one of the nation's leading insurers, USAA. In the highway safety community, he'll be remembered as an advocate of loss control or, as McDermott himself put it, "relieving the burden of suffering." His motives were both humane and economic.

The insurance industry has "the opportunity to save lives," McDermott said in 1987. "Remembering that we are in a profession that deals with life and death — and not just tangentially — tells us who we are and why we are different from the rest of the pack."

This commitment led McDermott to champion the Institute's work, serving on the board of directors for a decade (1984-93). Joining with former Institute president William Haddon, Jr., M.D., McDermott undertook a national effort in the 1980s to quantify and publicize the hazards of driving small cars compared with larger ones (see Status Report special issue: small car hazards, Dec. 30, 1982). He also touted the benefits of airbags before they became widely available, praising Ford for putting them in affordable vehicles and buying airbag-equipped vehicles for his company's fleet.

As chairman of the Institute when Haddon died in 1985, McDermott led the board of directors in appointing Brian O'Neill to lead the organization. McDermott helped to ensure a smooth transition into O'Neill's presidency (1985-2006) and the continuation of Haddon's legacy.

"McD will be remembered as a strong highway safety voice, even advocating some activities that were controversial at the time," O'Neill says. Current Institute president Adrian Lund adds that "this organization wouldn't be what it is today without General McDermott."

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