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A $1.5 million estate gift will endow the Frederick ’52 and Martha Mahan Professor in Christian Studies. The generous gift from Fred and Martha Mahan honors the mentoring and teaching of two Gettysburg College professors, Norman Richardson and Kerry Walters. The Mahans want to be sure that such mentoring and spirit of inquiry will be in place for future generations of Gettysburg College students, and they want to foster dialogue between faith traditions and secular cultures.
In 2010 the couple established the Frederick Mahan Great Questions Fund to provide opportunities for students and faculty to explore the perennial great questions of faith, reason, values, truth, and purpose. The annual Mahan Lecture brings speakers to campus to explore the relationship of those questions to the purpose and meaning of life. President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77 announced the professorship and thanked the pair at the 2013 lecture on campus.
“Fred and Martha’s gift is a powerful indication of their ongoing support for our philosophy and religious studies departments,” Riggs said. “These funds [Great Questions and the professorship] will continue to encourage our students’ and faculty’s exploration of these great questions, while honoring professors Richardson and Walters.”
The Mahan Professor in Christian Studies may come from any discipline and may be housed in any academic department. The professor will teach courses that offer perspectives in history, theology, philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, politics, evolutionary and environmental science, literature, or fine arts as they relate to Christianity.
This is the second commitment to an endowed faculty position as part of Gettysburg Great, The Campaign for Our College. The campaign is a comprehensive effort to increase support for student scholarships, active learning opportunities like research and internships, faculty and teaching, a renovation of Plank Gymnasium, and the Gettysburg Fund.
A thinker, a seeker
Composer Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations has mystified generations of musicologists over a possible underlying theme—a theme not played but a counterpoint, a principal part that never appears. Elgar took the answer to his grave. The piece is a favorite of Fred Mahan, who is at ease with the unknowable and understands his life in terms of providence.
“I am uncompromising in the faith,” Mahan said. “God met me in many, many places in my life.” As a boy in Charleston, West Virginia, Mahan spotted a uniformed military school cadet walking past his father’s grocery store and declared to his mother that he wanted to go to an academy. “Well, why don’t you?” was all his mother had to say and at his own initiative he enrolled in a military prep school in Staunton, Virginia. There, his Spanish teacher, J. Frank Toms ’46, suggested he come to Gettysburg College. Mahan found that experience to be a turning point.
“I was always philosophically and religiously inclined, but I became a philosophy major because of a very gifted chairman of the department, Norman Richardson. He became a friend of the family through the years; we exchanged books and letters.” Richardson, who retired in 1979 after 34 years of teaching, died in 1990.
“My guess is that Norm found in Fred a heart and mind already yearning for wisdom,” said Prof. Kerry Walters, who came to know the Mahans since he joined the philosophy department in 1985. “He’s told me many times that his hunger for truth was awakened during his student days by Norm Richardson.”
After graduation and service in the Air Force, Mahan worked his way through the University of Michigan School of Law. With no offers from leading law firms, he made a short list of five cities he would want to live in and chose San Francisco as the place to launch his career as a trial lawyer. Fred says hard work and providence were at hand in his success. “If my career were handed to me on a silver platter by a big law firm, I wouldn’t be the guy I am today,” he said.
Gratitude and the desire to make a difference
Mahan makes it a point to write to those who have made a difference in his life. Back in California, he keeps a scrapbook of letters from those who have written back. One of those letters is from Henry W. A. Hanson, president of Gettysburg College when Mahan was a student.
“Henry W. A. Hanson did not know me from a bale of hay,” Mahan admits. “I needed $400 for my senior year and I didn’t know where it was going to come from. I went into his office, told him my story, and he reached into his desk and wrote me a check.”
Characteristically humble about the difference he has made for his alma mater, Fred graciously received the thanks of faculty, staff, and students and responded:
“I want to thank Gettysburg College and its President for answering my question: ‘How can I make a difference?’”
To make a difference at Gettysburg College or to discuss the campaign, contact the Office of Development, Alumni and Parent Relations online or at 717.337.6543.Posted: Mon, 6 May 2013