McDowell Institute Honors Its Namesake's Legacy

October 21, 2021
The Gary L. McDowell Institute honors the life and legacy of a Jepson luminary

It is out of the ordinary for a professor to have an institute named for him. But Gary L. McDowell was no ordinary professor.

So it came as no surprise to those who knew him that in 2020 the Jepson School of Leadership Studies named the Gary L. McDowell Institute in his honor. True to the values of its namesake, the Institute draws on historical texts and ideologically diverse viewpoints to foster discussions of important questions in ethics, law, and politics.

In 2003, the renowned constitutional scholar joined the faculty of the Jepson School, where he held the Tyler Haynes Interdisciplinary Chair in Leadership Studies, Political Science, and Law. By the time he retired in 2018, he had left an indelible impression on countless colleagues and students.

Alison Smith Mangiero, ’05, summed up the feelings of many of his students when she wrote to him: “I can’t remember an instance when I was in need of guidance—academic or otherwise—that you didn’t offer a prompt and insightful reply to my questions. You’ve led by example, showing me the pursuit of truth is the highest calling.”  

McDowell rose from humble beginnings to enjoy an illustrious career in public life and academia. Among his more notable roles were serving as director of the Institute of United States Studies at the University of London, chief speech writer for U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese during the Reagan Administration, and director of the Office of the Bicentennial of the Constitution at the National Endowment of the Humanities. He taught at Dickinson College, Tulane University, Harvard University, and Harvard Law School and authored or edited more than a dozen books.

In addition to bringing his keen intellect, sharp wit, and impressive knowledge of U.S. constitutional politics and law to Jepson classrooms, McDowell brought friends from his public life. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese all spoke at Jepson at his invitation. His class field trip to the U.S. Supreme Court included a private session with Justice Antonin Scalia.

No one generated as much buzz, however, as his friend Lady Margaret Thatcher when she visited the Jepson School for a week in 2004. The Iron Lady shared her leadership views during classroom visits, cocktail receptions, and dinner conversations with Jepson students and faculty.

 A lifelong conservative, McDowell loved nothing more than to debate the merits of ethical, legal, and political issues with people from diverse ideological perspectives. To that end, in fall 2008, he helped launch and became co-director—with leadership studies professor Terry Price—of the Jepson School’s John Marshall International Center for the Study of Statesmanship. The Center hosted faculty seminars about the nature of statesmanship and invited scholars from around the world to give public lectures on leadership in the international context.

In October 2020, just over two years after McDowell’s retirement, the Jepson School announced the formation of the Gary L. McDowell Institute, which subsumed the Marshall Center. Like its predecessor, the Institute’s programs include guest speakers, seminars, and conferences focused on leadership and statesmanship. The Institute added the Student Fellows Program, which engages politically diverse students in the study and discussion of political, social, and economic thought.

With McDowell’s passing this August, the Jepson School family lost a dear friend and, in the words of a colleague, “one of the great public intellectuals of our era.”

“Gary brought a tremendous amount of leadership experience to the Jepson School,” Dean Sandra Peart said. “His teaching and scholarship, as well as his stewardship of the Marshall Center, benefited the Jepson, University, and Greater Richmond communities and beyond. We are all the better for his influence.”

His commitment to the intellectual inquiry of statesmanship lives on in his beloved Institute. Gifts to the McDowell Institute perpetuate the legacy of one of Jepson’s finest.