“Do good by day and dance by night.”
That’s the philosophy of Edith Scott McAllister, and it’s served her for a life well-lived. At 98, it’s still the way she greets each new day and enriches the people and world around her.
McAllister is an iconic name in San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city. Her father-in-law, Walter W. McAllister Sr., and late husband, Walter W. McAllister Jr., loomed large on the civic and business agendas. McAllister Sr. was “Mayor Mac” and, along with McAllister Jr., guided community progress for several decades.
But through her own tireless and effervescent style of service, Edith has become iconic too. She has been everywhere, and everyone is better off for it.
Her father loved dancing and taught her how to dance when she was seven years old. She would continue to love all types of dancing, and bring the same passion and enthusiasm for it to her community service. Along the way, she has cracked several glass ceilings, among them being the first woman in the United States to serve as a Campaign Chair of United Way (1972).
Edith’s approach to life is markedly hands-on. Whether on the dance floor, in the swimming pool, on water skis, or in the nonprofit arena, Edith prefers being a participant over a spectator.
Her high level of energy enables her to make time for community endeavors, and catch up on assignments during the late night hours.
It is her joy of philanthropy, like her zest for life, which always comes shining through. Edith is energized by good works. At events — in fact, everywhere she goes — her smile illuminates the room and lifts the spirits of everyone in her presence.
Edith is still welcoming new projects and assignments. She just finished personalizing several hundred letters encouraging her friends to join her in supporting our local community college system. Her father-in-law was the first chairman of the system and her late husband also served as a chairman.
It is virtually impossible to count all the good causes that Edith has championed through gifts of time, talent and treasure. Over the years, she has been chairwoman, president, co-chair or vice president of at least 25 major San Antonio nonprofit organizations and their campaigns. She has also served on the boards of more than 25 nonprofit organizations.
Her presence has improved every facet of our quality of life, touching the arts, medicine, higher education, youth, and economic development.
Edith credits Margaret Lynn Batts Tobin, who lived down the street from her and was the first woman to chair the San Antonio Symphony, with helping her realize that gender shouldn’t be a factor in civic leadership.
As a philanthropist, Edith has a healthy respect for the science and art of fundraising. The sense of celebration with completing a campaign goal makes all the hard work worth it. One of the things she enjoys the most about philanthropy is helping first-time donors discover the joy of giving for themselves.
Professional fundraisers feel an especially close bond with Edith. She is not only a partner in good works, she is a friend. She has nurtured friendships with staff, from CEOs to secretaries, in a wide array of organizations.
It is no surprise that Edith has been honored by the San Antonio chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals as Philanthropist of the Year twice, in 1977 and 2013. But she is quick to deflect credit and praise for the many successes she has been associated with.
Fundraisers fondly remember her acceptance remarks in 2013: “You have pushed me when I needed a push, and held me back when I was at the edge of the cliff of unpreparedness. You have schooled me in your trade so I might make a good showing when I step into someone’s office to request a donation — and I see many of those philanthropists out there in the audience, most of whose offices I have sat in, asking for money. Then you sat in the background while I reaped the praise.”
Edith is the grandest of grande dames. Parties in the house she has lived in since 1950, such as her annual Christmas gathering, are never to be missed. Edith is always radiantly stationed at the door to greet each and every guest and then say goodbye to them at the night’s end.
She has rubbed shoulders with presidents, royalty, stars and captains of industry, but there is nothing stuffy about her. She relishes a good cheeseburger or taco, and her friends come from all walks of life.
Philanthropy is lifted by role models, and in Edith Scott McAllister, we have a gem. Philanthropy is about doing good not out of obligation, but out of a recognition that those who give time and money commensurate to their ability, get as much if not more back. Edith is proof that doing good and having a good time doing it go hand-in-hand.
After a lifetime of practicing the joy of philanthropy, Edith is arguably the most beloved woman in San Antonio.
Top image: Edith Scott McAllister stands in front of photos of her father-in-law “Mayor Mac” Walter W. McAllister Sr. (left) and her late husband Walter W. McAllister Jr. Photo by Pam Tyler.