Obituary: Clare B. 'Mickey' McDermott / Labor arbitrator led Mt. Lebanon to '76 state hockey championship

Oct. 11, 1923 - May 9, 2014


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"Have gavel, will travel."

That was a quip from labor arbitrator Clare B. "Mickey" McDermott, who was awarded a Bronze Star Medal in World War II and went on to become president of the National Academy of Arbitrators and a state-championship-winning coach of the Mt. Lebanon High School hockey team. He died Friday at the age of 90 at Mt. Lebanon's Asbury Heights retirement community.

His daughter Maggie McDermott of Mt. Lebanon said he loved hockey so much that "we all thought he would last until the Penguins were eliminated." Her brother Brian played on that 1976 team that won Mt. Lebanon's first state championship. Three decades later, Mr. McDermott also figured in the team's 2006 state championship, when his grandson Sean McDermott played on it.

Mr. McDermott had helped start the Mt. Lebanon Ice Center and high school hockey. Before that, he had his five children skating at Great Southern Roller-Ice Rink in Bridgeville, where he played adult hockey until the day he got checked out the door and into Chartiers Creek. "I think this is a real story," his daughter said with a laugh, noting, "A lot of people would say he was a character."

Her brother Patrick of Tacoma, Wash., said their father played on ponds and other outdoor rinks, and he can "distinctly recall going to Mass and sitting in the back row [of church] in our hockey equipment and uniforms at least once ... before we went to skate."

In 1978, Mr. McDermott cited his arbitration workload for why he quit coaching after becoming the first Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League hockey coach to win 100 games.

He was most proud, Patrick said, that his teams had the fewest penalty minutes in the league, adding, "It was tied to his sense of propriety and decency, the proper way to conduct yourself."

Clare Barrington McDermott was born in McKees Rocks. (He'd later say he was named for the county in Ireland and the "only good English landlord" thereabouts.) His mother died when he was 5, so he moved to Mt. Lebanon, where he was raised by his grandmother and two aunts.

He graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School -- where he participated in basketball, baseball and cross-country -- in 1942 and attended the University of Notre Dame for one year. But there was a war, so he enlisted in the Army and served as a staff sergeant in Europe and the Pacific.

After the war, he finished his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Duquesne University, also working in steel mills, which gave him a feel for manual labor. He continued his studies at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where -- after a two-year stint as clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia -- he was a professor for six years.

In the late 1950s, he started working on the board of arbitration that helped settle disputes between the U.S. Steel Corp. and the United Steelworkers of America. In 1974, he opened his own arbitration practice, staying active in the field into his late 80s.

He served as the National Academy of Arbitrators president in 1979-80. In one of the "Presidential Interviews" archived on the group's website, he talked about how traveling around the country to help settle management-labor disputes could be lonely: "My wife rarely comes with me, every once in a while. I don't go to that many jazzy places. A week in Boomer, West Virginia goes a long way. ..."

He was married to his wife, the Canadian-born Eleanor Hatch, for 67 years (she died this past June).

Together they raised five children in a home that Mr. McDermott filled with thousands of books that, -- as his daughter Maggie McDermott put it, "took up more space in his house than his wife would have preferred."

She recalls her father taking her and her siblings to civil-rights marches and working for fair housing. When she asked him why, he said, "It just seems so unfair."

"In any choice he made, always made the right choice morally," she said. "He was very well suited for that profession [arbitration] because he had such a sense of fairness. And he was smart."

Even in his last days, he was playfully sparring with her over her claim that a medicine worked on her dog's brain because, he said, that presumed that her dog has a brain. "I think we're going to put 'Lover of knowledge, big dogs and hockey' on his gravestone."

In addition to her and brothers Patrick and Brian, Mr. McDermott is survived by son Michael of Mt. Lebanon; daughter Maura of Montclair, Va.; 11 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

The family will hold a memorial service from 1 to 3 p.m. July 19 at Laughlin Memorial Chapel at 222 Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon.


Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.

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