RIP Wesley McDonald, scholar on Russell Kirk and Conservatism

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w wes mcdonald

Wesley McDonald

1946 – 2014

Wesley McDonald, a professor of Political Science at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, an author, and a leading authority on the scholar, Russell Kirk, died on September 9 at John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, after a brief illness. He was 68.

For 34 years, he had been a Professor of Political Science at Elizabethtown College. Students and colleagues at the college describe him as a talented and passionate teacher, a spirited defender of conservative thought, and a loyal friend and mentor whose encouragement brought out the best in each person.

Carl J. Strikwerda, Ph.D., President of Elizabethtown College, said: “Wes MacDonald enlivened discussions on campus with his witty insights, bold assertions, and sense of humor. I have met many alumni who testified to how much Wes shaped their lives and inspired them.”

Prior to joining the faculty at Elizabethtown College in 1980, Dr. McDonald worked for three years as Dr. Russell Kirk’s research assistant. Russell Kirk, considered to be one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement, was his friend and mentor for more than 25 years. This long association laid the foundation for Dr. McDonald’s 264-page book, Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology (University of Missouri Press, 2004).

The book was highly-acclaimed and led to a major article in the Chronicle of Higher Education as well as an online symposium and an appearance on C-SPAN to discuss the political and philosophical ideas of one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement. In 2013, Dr. McDonald participated in a Symposium, “The Conservative Mind at 60,” and presented a paper on the legacy of Russell Kirk.

Dr. McDonald earned three degrees Political Science: a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America (1982); a Master’s degree from Bowling State University, Bowling Green, Ohio (1969); and a B.A. from Towson State University (1968).

W. Wesley McDonald was born in Catonsville, Maryland, the only son of William E. and Marie C. McDonald of Ellicott City, Maryland. He grew up Howard County in Maryland, attending Howard High School (class of 1964) in Ellicott City. In 1996, he married Alice Baumgart, a former dean and vice principal of Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. The couple met on the Mount of Olives in Israel.

W. Wesley McDonald wrote numerous articles in newspapers and scholarly journals on American politics and conservatism, and was a regular guest, along with his Elizabethtown colleague, Dr. Fletcher McClellan, on the Penn Cable Network to discuss election campaigns and their underlying dynamics. In addition, he taught courses in both Portugal and Iceland for military personnel under the auspices of the University of Maryland.

It would be wrong to think of Dr. McDonald as a one-note advocate for conservatism, however. His scholarly interests included American electoral politics and campaigns, classic films, political novels, the history of Western political ideas, and modern ideologies.

Dr. McDonald was the chairman of the College’s pre-law advisory committee and a faculty adviser for the College Republicans. He also was a member of the American Political Science Association, and the Philadelphia Society; and served on the executive board of the Pennsylvania Political Science Association.

In addition to his academic interests, “Wes” as his friend called him, loved history of all kinds, classical music, especially Wagnerian operas, model trains, books, good food, animals, and was endlessly fascinated by and kept abreast of emerging evidence on that most mysterious religious relic, the Shroud of Turin.

Wes McDonald traveled extensively in the U.S. and Canada as well as Europe, Mexico, Israel, New Zealand and Australia. He and his wife enjoyed many summers at the cottage they owned on the Rideau Lakes in Eastern Ontario.

“Wes McDonald was one of my first doctoral students at The Catholic University of America,” commented Claes Ryn, Professor of Politics. “Ideas mattered deeply to him. He asked me to direct a dissertation about Kirk. It became a pioneering work in that it philosophically elucidated central themes in Kirk’s thought and explained how they informed and structured his work as a whole. Wes skillfully brought out the meaning and importance of ‘the moral imagination.’ The dissertation eventually turned into his seminal and indispensable book Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology. Wes’ dedication to ‘the permanent things’ inspired all of his subsequent writing and teaching and earned him the gratitude and admiration of students. He lived as he taught and was the model of the devoted teacher-scholar. He had a wonderful sense of humor and jocular manner,” Dr. Ryn said.

Annette Y. Kirk, President of the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal said, “Wes McDonald was a leading scholar in the tradition of my late husband, Russell Kirk. Through his book, writings, and speeches, he brought the Kirk legacy of conservatism animated by a moral imagination to a new generation of students, academics, and readers everywhere. Wes’ emphasis on the value of the ‘Permanent Things,’ inspired many to avoid the pitfalls of ideology and to pursue a thoughtful and imaginative conservatism. We are grateful for his tremendous accomplishments in this area.”

Wes McDonald’s survivors include his wife, Alice Baumgart; his mother, Marie McDonald, 91, of Catonsville; his sister Christina Herman of Woodbine, Maryland; a niece, Erin Herman of Walkersville, Maryland; a nephew, Todd Herman of Chicago; an honorary grandson, Bora Ozkanca of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania; several aunts, uncles, and cousins; and his loyal dog, McGuffee, a West Highland Terrier.

Two memorial services are being held, one at Elizabethtown College and one in Maryland. At Elizabethtown College, the memorial service will be at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, September 30 in Leffler Chapel followed by a reception in the Chapel Foyer.

The Maryland memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 4, at Morgan Chapel United Methodist Church, 6750 Woodbine Road, Woodbine, Maryland 21797 to be followed by a reception at the home of his cousins, Pat and Charles Browning, 1870 Woodbine Road, also in Woodbine.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the W. Wesley McDonald Memorial Scholarship Fund, Elizabethtown College, Office of Development, One Alpha Drive, Elizabethtown, PA 17022.

Online condolences may be made through the website of Miller-Sekely Funeral Home & Crematory of Elizabethtown at