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Ethel Clift McGinnis

Obituary for Ethel Clift McGinnis

October 16, 1920 - December 7, 2014
Austin, Texas | Age 94


Volunteer, organizer and social activist, Ethel Clift McGinnis, of Austin, died December 7, 2014, at her home. Ethel was born October 16, 1920, in Omaha, Nebraska to William B. and Sunny Clift. By coincidence, she was the twin of Montgomery Clift (Monty), who later became a famous movie actor.

When Ethel was growing up, the Clifts lived in many places in the U.S. and Europe. Ethel learned French and German at an early age while living in Switzerland. She liked making friends with persons of different cultures and formed the belief that there was great value in understanding and appreciating the views of others. During the depression of the 1930s, the Clifts settled into a small apartment in New York City. Soon, though, she was off to Pennsylvania, where she earned a sociology degree from Bryn Mawr College. While at Bryn Mawr, she organized a program to assist displaced refugees to learn English and to qualify for citizenship.

In 1943, Ethel moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Interior and State Departments. During World War II, she helped make many maps, including maps that were later used as the basis for dividing Berlin before that city was occupied by the U.S. and Russia. In Washington, D.C., she also met Robert C. (Bob) McGinnis, an Austin native, who had recently graduated from Yale Law School and was a Naval Intelligence Officer.

In May of 1945, Ethel and Bob were married in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While Bob was still in the Navy, they lived in Stockton, California, and Boulder, Colorado, where Ethel helped Bob through illness and Russian language school. After the war, Bob and Ethel moved to Dallas for three years, where Bob practiced law and taught at SMU Law School, while Ethel taught English at SMU. Ethel gave birth to two children in Dallas, Mary and Campbell.

In 1949, the McGinnis family moved back to Austin, where Bob practiced law with a firm which later became McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore. Austin became their lifelong home, and Ethel gave birth to three more children, John, Robert and Mike, before 1954. Ethel was devoted to Bob and to raising her five children. There was never a dull moment.

But family was not enough for Ethel. She had a strong sense of social obligation and a desire to help others. Ethel became a Red Cross case worker, and volunteered at the Cerebral Palsy Center as well as at Child and Family Services. She also worked on the Junior League teacher recruitment program, and soon learned there were not enough teachers to take care of all the children. To address this problem, she worked to relieve teachers of red tape and chores that could be performed by others. Additionally, she conceived the notion of creating an organization to match the abilities of volunteers with the needs of particular agencies. The Volunteer Bureau was formed in 1957, after she had interviewed the heads of various agencies, lined up an excellent board and had become active in raising funds for the organization. The Volunteer Bureau was well received, and soon began placing over 200 volunteers.

Ethel recognized that most foreign students came to UT without knowing anyone in the Austin community, and that some faced language barriers. She founded the International Hospitality Council of Austin, in 1960, to match host families in Austin with incoming foreign students. The idea was that each could learn from the other, and we could all learn to get along together. The program began with 10 host families, including the McGinnis family, who hosted a student from Pakistan. Over time, the program has grown and evolved to include international friendship, mentoring, holiday dinners with hosts and assistance to foreign dignitaries.

Ethel remained active in various volunteer projects until Bob suffered a stroke in the early 1990s. Then, she devoted herself to his care until his death, in 1995. Ethel's vision and spirit have been an inspiration to her family and friends. During her lifetime, she gave her time and organizational talents generously for the benefit of many persons.

Ethel is survived by 4 of her 5 children (their spouses) and 11 grandchildren: Mary Blair Moredock, deceased 2011, (Steve) and Christopher; Campbell McGinnis (Jayne), Bill, Devon and Paul; John Montgomery McGinnis (Brandee), Heather, Kim, Skye, Travis, and Kendall; Robert Clift McGinnis; Michael James McGinnis (Cate), Elizabeth and Hanna.

Burial will be at a private family service at Austin Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Karl, Helen, and Robert McGinnis Scholarship Fund, which awards grants to economically qualified students to attend the University of Texas, c/o Kristi Brown, MSIS Dept. CBA 5.202, Austin, Texas 78712-1175.

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  • In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Karl, Helen, and Robert McGinnis Scholarship Fund, which awards grants to economically qualified students to attend the University of Texas, c/o Kristi Brown, MSIS Dept. CBA 5.202, Austin, Texas 78712-1175.

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Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705
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