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P.R. McDermott, 76; revitalized Advertising Club

PAUL McDERMOTT

On the phone he would say, “Paul Richard McDermott here,’’ in a voice so soft that it was as if no one was on the other end of the line, and he was only marginally louder in person.

“You almost had to lean into him to hear what he was saying,’’ said his friend Ed Eskandarian, the retired chief executive of Arnold Worldwide, who for years has been a leader in Boston’s advertising community.

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Quietly going about his work, Mr. McDermott let his actions speak volumes. From corporate deals to debates, fund-raisers to fun, he was a master at organizing events and pairing players from politics, businesses, and charitable organizations, always in the service of a greater good than bringing himself attention.

“He had this wonderful way of helping you and then asking you for a favor to help somebody else,’’ Eskandarian said. “He never asked for a favor for himself. It was always for someone else.’’

Mr. McDermott, a business consultant who turned a moribund Advertising Club of Greater Boston into a trade organization with clout, died of complications of Parkinson’s disease Feb. 9 in Chelsea’s Leonard Florence Center for Living. He was 76 and had previously lived for many years in Newton.

“When he went out on his own as a corporate consultant, people wondered what he did for a living, because he didn’t trumpet what he did,’’ Dick Flavin, a longtime Boston television commentator and playwright, said in a eulogy Monday during Mr. McDermott’s funeral Mass.

“He did just about everything. He offered advice on marketing and branding and strategic positioning. He organized events. He put people together. He used his vast network of friends to open doors of opportunity.’’

People with diametrically opposite needs went to Mr. McDermott for help.

“He knew how to get your name in the newspaper,’’ said Flavin, a friend since high school. “And even more important, when the occasion demanded, he knew how to keep your name out of the newspaper. That is a great, great skill.’’

An even greater skill, perhaps, could be seen in how Mr. McDermott handled his tasks.

“People loved him because not only did he do his job, but he was nice about it,’’ said his older brother, James of Cambridge. “He left a trail of nice things.’’

“He created all this happiness,’’ said Joan McDermott Clowes of Kingston, Pa., one of Mr. McDermott’s 14 nieces and nephews, all of whom returned home for his funeral, traveling from places as distant as Hawaii, New Mexico, and Florida.

In the often cutthroat worlds of business and advertising, where winning or losing big contracts could mean champagne on Friday or layoff notices on Monday, Mr. McDermott was uncommonly congenial.

“I know he dealt with some stinkers sometimes,’’ said his son, Douglas of Brighton, “but he would never say anything bad about people, which was very impressive.’’

Born in Quincy, Mr. McDermott was the youngest of four surviving children. He was 6 when his mother died while giving birth to his younger brother, who also died.

Mr. McDermott and Flavin graduated in 1954 from Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree. Mr. McDermott was already honing his skills at making and keeping friends.

“He persevered,’’ Flavin said in an interview. “He had that gift even back then. It was never about him. Instead, he’d call you to see how things were going.’’

Mr. McDermott attended Boston College briefly and left to serve in South Korea with the US Army.

In 1967, he married Nancy King, and they had two children. She died in 2000.

“Family was always important to him, and he did his best when we were kids to make sure we knew our family,’’ his son said. “He made sure we knew our aunts and uncles and cousins. It was a great gift.’’

When extended family gathered on Cape Cod, Mr. McDermott arrived bearing treats from a bakery. Other times, he dispensed gifts by phone, calling nephews and nieces to say he had secured hard-to-get tickets.

“He was better then Ticketmaster,’’ his niece said in a eulogy Monday. “There were tickets to see Bruce Springsteen, countless Red Sox tickets, tickets to the Tall Ships.’’

Mr. McDermott began cultivating his circles of contacts in the early 1960s, while working on Edward M. Kennedy’s first campaign for US Senate, and as an administrative assistant to Francis X. Bellotti, who was then lieutenant governor.

In the mid-1960s, Mr. McDermott took a job with the Dow Jones publishing company as a regional sales manager until he became executive director of the Advertising Club of Greater Boston.

The trade organization had little money and comparatively few members. During his decade of leadership, the organization more than tripled in size, and its annual Hatch Awards became a go-to event. Such labors came with many demands.

“I took my two days off this year, in the summer,’’ Mr. McDermott joked to the Globe in 1979 after announcing he would step down.

By then, he was well known in so many Boston circles that walking with him was like strolling with the mayor.

“He knew everybody,’’ his son said. “We’d be in an airport, and he’d run into a friend. It was always a running joke in our family that he always knew somebody everywhere.’’

Said Flavin: “I used to have a theory that there were seven Paul McDermotts. Every place you went, you’d see him.’’

One place friends saw Mr. McDermott was at luncheons he organized several times a year. Journalists, politicians, and business executives dined together at the off-the-record gatherings.

“Paul not only kept in touch with us, he kept us in touch with each other,’’ Flavin said.

“And he always picked up the tab,’’ said Martin F. Nolan, former editorial page editor at the Globe. “He’d say, ‘My clients owe me something,’ and he wouldn’t let you pay.’’

In addition to his son and brother, Mr. McDermott leaves a daughter, Kara McDermott Horgan of McLean, Va.; two sisters, Miriam LaCroix and Margaret Taylor, both of Hingham; and three grandchildren.

More than 200 people attended Mr. McDermott’s funeral Mass Monday in St. Cecelia Church in the Back Bay, a gathering at which business rivals set aside past battles to honor a common friend.

“It didn’t matter if you were a CEO or someone new to the business, Paul was the person you wanted to see,’’ Eskandarian said. “But ultimately, he would stay in the background. You almost had to drag him forward and say, ‘Here’s the guy who was instrumental in making that happen.’ That’s what he did: He always stood behind the guy who was getting the credit.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.
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