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Ted McAllister’s Place: A Memorial Tribute

By Bruce Frohnen at the Kirk Center

Ted V. McAllister died on January 27 after a long, hard-fought battle with cancer. A native Oklahoman, he spent most of his career living in Moorpark (culturally quite distant from Los Angeles) while teaching at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy. Among the earliest faculty at that school, he was instrumental in establishing and maintaining its integration of the humanities into the professional curriculum. He was also a cherished and encouraging friend of the Russell Kirk Center family, the publisher of this journal.

A scholar of the American polity, combining a deep understanding of history with a concern to explore the effects of ideas on human conduct and character, McAllister was an important figure in traditional conservative circles. He was a powerful orator, beloved teacher, and master of the written word. He devoted his life and work to his people and the constitutional order that once helped them sustain right order and meaningful communities.

Ted will, of course, be remembered most for his scholarship. But it is a testament to the right order of his soul that he lived in a manner that prioritized his faith, his family, and his primary vocation as a teacher over worldly success. He saw his relationship with God as the source of spiritual being, from which all good things must flow. His duties to family, and his love for them, were with him always and influenced professional as well as personal choices. And teaching? His students, formal and informal, saw him as a guide to life, and to knowledge of our personhood and the character of our people. Toward the end of Ted’s life, I was privileged to step in for him in teaching a class. The students were unfailingly polite and, more than this, kind, seeking to make the class the best it could possibly be. Their attitude, and their frequent references to Ted, were not just signs of their good character, but also a profound compliment to him; the class remained his class, with me an ally in students’ attempt to make our semester together worthy of him.

Ted and I rarely met in person but became, for my part, brothers over the span of a few years as we wrote two books together. He was the guiding force for Coming Home: Reclaiming America’s Conservative Soul, which began as a proposal for a series of conferences at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. Though already ill, he was a full partner in conceiving and writing Character in the American Experience: An Unruly People. Both books evince his understanding that a people’s character—its virtues, customs, and ways of living—are the source of social order and must be fostered and maintained if culture, constitution, and the people itself are to endure. And such character, being the result of intimate relationships and the interlocking institutions, beliefs, and practices of those with whom we live, can be shaped and maintained only at the local level, which broader national and international structures may protect or undermine, but never improve.

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