Betty Claire Schmid Dupree McKnight, known to her competitors as “The Iron Duchess” and to the other half of her acquaintances as “Gran” died unexpectedly at home on Aug. 12, 2020. She was 95 years old, the family said in an obituary.
Mrs. McKnight was the second of three children born to Claire Foster Schmid and Walter Arnesdale “Mickey” Schmid.
She attended Fort Worth public schools and graduated from Arlington Heights High School at age 15. She attended Wellesley College and graduated from the University of Texas Phi Beta Kappa at 19, when she then began working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. While in Austin, she won the UT intramural golf championship.
Although she later moved to New York for seven years to report for Life Magazine and Mademoiselle, she remained so connected to her newspaper friends that throughout the years even the most trivial achievements of her children found their way into the pages of the paper.
Her taste for adventure led her to serve as a reporter in Europe, where she used her press pass to accompany a load of coal in a Skymaster C-54 in the Berlin Airlift. She had the dubious privilege of an exclusive interview with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and reported on a series called “Life Goes to a Party” featuring the 100th anniversary of the Erie Railroad.
As a community volunteer in Fort Worth, she was an effective leader.
She and her friend Priscilla Bradford Holland set forth a plan to create Fort Worth Country Day School.
Mrs. McKnight phoned and invited all the founding board members and called the first three meetings. All the founding board members formed lasting friendships. She and Priscilla insisted that the new school hold daily Anglican chapel services, which did take place during the school’s first two years. She also singlehandedly vetoed the initial proposed school motto of “Education Serves the State,” which died at the conference table.
As an early and energetic volunteer for the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, Mrs. McKnight employed her diplomatic gifts.
She housed international contestants in her home, held private dinners for supporting musicians, including Aaron Copeland, and even worked to distract a KGB agent named Madame Pankova who had been assigned to trail a Soviet competitor.
Mrs. McKnight and her son Rob later went to Moscow to visit Vladimir Viardo, a Van Cliburn winner. Viardo ultimately became a proud American citizen and a Texan.
Following the death of her first husband, Robert P. Dupree, Mrs. McKnight headed the annual fundraising event that benefits Cook Children’s Hospital, The Jewel Charity Ball. She broke all fundraising records up to that point, the family obituary said.
She remained a widow for 17 years and then found love again and married Alfred McKnight Jr., a decorated World War II fighter pilot who had been shot down in the Battle of the Bulge and survived a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Together they enjoyed hosting their blended family of children and grandchildren at McKnight’s Midnight Angus Ranch in Walnut Springs. It was a second very happy season of her life.
Mrs. McKnight was unsurpassed as a grandmother to her three grandchildren, Claire Davis Brueggeman, and Shap and Robert Davis.
In their infancy she would take the “midnight shift” for feedings. In their early youth she was the instigator of indulgent adventures discouraged by parents like trips to watch the Dallas Cowboys at sports bars and outings to the Dixie Classic Fair to ride roller coasters and eat cotton candy. She faithfully attended birthday parties, sporting events and graduations.
As they got older, Mrs. McKnight liked nothing better than beating her grandchildren in poker, chuckling under her breath when she knew she had a winning hand. She even attended 10 days of college classes with Claire at Patrick Henry College when visiting her. She had much in common with Professor David Aikman, who had reported for Time magazine on the opening of China, so she attended his three-hour seminars twice.
Mrs. McKnight was preceded in death by her parents and two siblings, a daughter, Katherine Claire Dupree, and beloved grand-nephews Kelly Tripplehorn and Mick Schmid.
She is survived by her daughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Ron Davis (nee Ellen Dupree) and a son, Rob Dupree, husband of Jenny Pace Dupree and step-father of Tabitha Wolfe.
Mrs. McKnight is also survived by her stepdaughter, Ann McKnight Stevens, and stepson, David McKnight. She is survived by a sister-in-law, Geraldine Harmon Schmid and two nephews, Mickey and Billy Schmid, and a niece, Charlotte Tripplehorn, and their families. She is also survived by two first cousins, Jody Foster of Dallas, and George Peyton of Piedmont, California.
The family wishes to express its heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Miloni Pankaj Shroff for her outstanding medical care and commitment to her patients demonstrated during Mrs. McKnight’s recent consultation.
Similarly, the family will always remember the selfless generosity of Benjamin E. Ryan in donating lifesaving plasma during a past illness. The family is grateful for the emergency assistance, wisdom, and loyal friendship of Dr. Chris Ewin.In memory of Mrs. McKnight, the family is creating a scholarship at Patrick Henry College in the Department of Journalism to further the study of objectivity in political reporting. Memorials may be sent to: Patrick Henry College, 10 Patrick Henry Circle, Purceville VA 20183.
Due to the limitations on public gatherings, the internment at Greenwood will be private, at the discretion of Rob Dupree.
The Davis family plans to hold a memorial service outside early in October, when they are able to travel, and will post a subsequent announcement.
– FWBP Staff/Family obituary