Methuen — James Patrick McDermott, 81, and Thelma Mary McDermott, 79, died together with their dog, Poplar, early Wednesday morning in their Methuen home during a catastrophic fire. The couple’s eight cherished cats are still unaccounted for.
James was born in Lawrence, Mass., to Claire Sifferlen and James McDermott. He was the eldest of three brothers. He graduated from Searles Memorial High School in Methuen, and left home to serve his country in the Air Force during the Korean War. When he returned, he accepted a football scholarship from the University of Miami. He was only a Hurricane for a year, however, due to injuries sustained in a car accident. James completed his bachelor’s degree at Saint Anselm's College and was awarded his master’s in education from Salem State University. James taught biology and science at Tenney High School from 1959 to 1968. From 1968 to 1985, he taught mechanical drawing at both Tenney and Methuen high schools. He became the athletic director at Methuen in 1985. He retired in 1994.
James McDermott was an accomplished craftsman and built the house on Buttonwood Drive. He also built a home for his parents on Timber Lane and the family’s camp on Big Island Pond in Atkinson, N.H. He carved beautiful duck decoys in the traditional style, however, he did not approve of, or participate in hunting. James was a member of the Bavarian Improvement Society in Lawrence throughout his entire adult life. An avid reader and historian, James had an extensive library in his home. He was an accomplished gardener and planted a large variety of vegetables and flowers every summer that he started from seed in his green house. He enjoyed photography, drawing and painting, and collecting HO scale models. He had amassed an enormous collection of Lionel trains.
Thelma Mary McDermott was born on Staten Island to Scottish and English immigrants, Maria Keir and James Webster. The couple had seven other children before Thelma, their youngest. James Webster was a golf course architect and the family of 10 traveled the country as he designed and built golf courses. They finally settled in Lawrence, where Thelma attended Lawrence High School. She went on to study nursing at the Lawrence General School of Nursing. She graduated in 1955 as a registered nurse, and held the position of head nurse of the delivery room for many years. She worked in several physicians’ offices after that, including the office of pediatrician Dr. O’Shea. Thelma moved on to specialize in elder care, and at the time of her death, was a supervisor to visiting nurses in Gloucester and Beverly.