Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Wilson Carey McWIlliams, RIP

Wilson Carey McWilliams died earlier this week. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

Update:Thanks to John Seery, here’s an obituary. The funeral is taking place as I write this (3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 2nd).

Discussions - 4 Comments

A great man, in so many ways. I first met him as a student in his American Political Thought course. It was an intellectual treat of the first order. It set the tone for every subsequent encounter with Carey, whether in person or through his writings, or indirectly in people I met who likewise were Carey-touched and like me were Carey admirers. One of the best thing about him - duly noted by many, not practiced by many - was that you really could disagree with him about something important and not adversely affect your friendship: his loyalties and friendships were eternal.
Requiescat in pace.

There will be a memorial service for Carey McWilliams on June 18 at 9:30 a.m., at the Kirkpatrick Chapel on the Rutgers College (New Brunswick) campus. All are welcome.

For more information, please contact Carey’s wife Nancy (nancymcw@aol.com) or his daughter Susan (smcwilli@princeton.edu).

I wanted to share some thoughts about Carey.

I was a working class kid very unsure of himself at Rutgers in the fall of 1974. The great thing about Carey was his anti-elitism. No one from my immigrant family had ever gone to college and I did not know if I had what it takes. Carey (and Rutgers, Livingston) gave me the chance to find out.

I can never forget Carey’s first lecture. It was in an international relations course. You know how a matador can mesmerize the bull, so that the bull stands dumbfounded as the matador turns his back on him. Well, Carey did that to an entire class of students with his first lecture one morning. He walked out of the room, and every person in the class sat there looking at each other. I looked at the guy next to me and said: "My god, did you just hear what I did?"

A couple of weeks later, on a cool fall day, I wandered over to his office. He growled in his inimitable way: "Well, its about time you came to see me, Solari." and he pulled out two glasses and a bottle of bourbon from his desk, poured drinks, and began talking. When I stumbled out of that room two hours later, my course in life was set. He opened up the world to me that afternoon and turned on a switch that has never gone off.

Over the years, Carey’s generosity and kindness came out over and over again. He hired me to paint and wallpaper in his home. Not so much because I was such a good painter, but I needed the money and he cared enough to notice. He came to my wedding and his being there greatly addded to the day.

When I was accepted to the graduate program at Duke, it was David Price who called to let me know of my acceptance and told me Cary had personally called the commitee to help me with my application.

Over the years, I found that no matter how far I had come in life, no matter my intellectual or personal achievements I needed my Carey "fix." He would help me decipher what was going on around me and help to settle me on the issues of our troubled country.

At conferences, I would seek him out, and I usually found him: holding "court" as Carey loved to do, sitting with a glass of bourbon in his hands, surrounded by dozens of his friends and students. I often joined that circle and counted myself lucky to do so.

Carey later sat on my dissertation committee at Duke, and flew down to sit in on my defense. Later at my house, he played with my young daughter, on his knees on the floor, making her laugh hysterically as he did a great imitation of winnie the pooh.


My education and studies have enriched my life beyond measure. When I think of the alternate possibilities of my existence had I not met Cary, I literally shudder. Although many have contributed to making me who I am, it was Carey who set it all in motion.

I can’t tell you how sad I have been at his passing. The world is a darker place without him. All of us as his students, must try and be to our students what he was to us.Carey would like that.

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