Rita was the daughter of Catherine “Kitty” Quigley McDermott and Harold McDermott, a bookkeeper and musician. She graduated from John Adams High School in Queens, NY, and immediately started work as a stenographer, so she could contribute to the family income during the Depression. She worked various jobs at banks, radio stations, and for an entertainment attorney, where she remembers being “chased around desks,” as expected by young women in those days.
In 1944, during World War II, she married Ed Souweine. During the war, when “Eddie” was temporarily stationed in the U.S. between overseas assignments, she would leave work and jump on a train to travel across the country to spend time with him.
After the war, Rita and Eddie started their family. They rented a house in Levittown, NY, and then purchased their own home there. Rita was mainly a stay-at-home mother to her 5 children, but she was very active in PTA. For a time, she worked selling Peggy Newton cosmetics. As a woman of her time, she washed lots of baby diapers and hung them outside on the line, she ironed LOTS of clothing and sheets, washed all her dishes by hand, and had to share one bathroom with the other 6 members of the family. Her children remember her using her flat iron every night as they were going to bed. She was always very supportive of her children’s activities.
In 1961, Eddie was transferred to Maryland. The family lived in Baltimore county for one year and then moved to the new Belair-at-Bowie Levitt development (her third Levitt home). She was very active in the new community. She was a founding member and officer of the PTAs of Kenilworth Elementary School and Belair Jr. High School. She performed in the infamous “Hello Levitt” parody produced by Kenilworth PTA. She helped a budding local newspaper by letting them set up an office in her home. Frustrated over the fact that Prince George’s schools did not have orchestras that her violin-playing daughter could play in, she decided to start a community orchestra by putting an ad in the local paper. The Belair Symphony, which became the Prince George’s Philharmonic, has now been performing for almost 60 years.
Her idea to create a directory of the arts in Prince George’s County became a part time job with P.G. County Dept. of Recreation (subsequently the Dept. of Parks and Recreation of M-NCPPC). Ultimately, the department created an Arts Division and she was named its first head. During her leadership, the “Publick Playhouse” in Cheverly and Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel were acquired and put into service to the community.
Following her retirement from M-NCPPC in 1982, she was honored with the first Maryland Recreation and Parks Association Arts Award for an individual and was hailed as the “First Lady of the Arts” by Prince George’s Magazine. She was appointed to the Maryland State Arts Council, which she chaired from 1985-1988, was a member of the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and served on the Board of Directors of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation of Maryland. She is included in the book “Women of Achievement in Prince George’s County History” by Therese C.Yewell.
Eventually Rita took time to travel with Ed, her sister Pat, and her mother Kitty, which included a visit to Silvermines, Ireland, where the family had its roots. After Ed passed away, her daughter Jamie and her husband Jim moved in with Rita so that she could host important occasions at her home in her role as matriarch of the family. She was a person of strict daily routines, including cover-to-cover readings of the Washington Post every day. There was rarely a matter of current events that escaped her attention or comment, pausing only for meals and the obligatory 6 pm Martini. There was the 11:00 pm news broadcast before bedtime, but only through the weather report; as soon as the sports report began, the TV went off. She did not slow down much at all, celebrating her 90th and 100th birthdays with family and friends from far and wide. This loss will be long felt, far and wide.
Rita was predeceased by her husband of 56 years, Ed Souweine, her son Tom Souweine, her daughter-in-law Eva, her brothers Leonard and Tom McDermott, her sisters-in-law Julie and Anne McDermott, and her brother-in-law George Collins. She is survived by her children Kitch (Ken) Ayre, Jamie (Jim) Crowne, Tim (Lisa) Souweine, and Rob (Hilde) Souweine, 12 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren, and 1 great-great grandchild, her sister Pat Collins, her brother Michael (Pat) McDermott, and her sister-in-law Martha McDermott.
She will be remembered in a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Pius X Church in Bowie, MD on May 4, 2023 at noon, followed by a burial service at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery.