David Stanley McLellan, a retired professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio and the author several books about international affairs, died Sunday, February 21, at his home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He was 85.
Dr. McLellan was a son of hardworking immigrants who learned that with determination and education he could rise and make a difference in society. He went on to travel the world, champion civil rights and freedom of expression, interview world leaders, write dozens of books and articles, teach hundreds of students, and raise four children with Ann, his beloved wife of 65 years.
Dr. McLellan was born Dec. 24, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Charles and Jessie, were new immigrants from Scotland. His younger brother, Robert McLellan was born in 1928. Charles McLellan, a skilled bricklayer, initially found work but soon was unemployed as the Great Depression swept the United States. Charles McLellan sold household supplies door to door and worked erratically in construction, sometimes with his son David’s help, while his mother took cooking and cleaning jobs, and the family rented out the first floor of its small house in Harmon on Hudson and moved upstairs.
“Red,” as his wife and old friends called him for his red hair, nevertheless went on to live a rich and fascinating life that often emerged years later in the stories he told his children and grandchildren. Rowing on the Hudson River, he saw Ann Handforth on a dock and knew instantly that he would marry her. Delivering a telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt on a train as a gangly teenager. Navigating an airplane over Shanghai and Hiroshima at the end of WWII as a frightened young lieutenant. Feeling the disdain of fellow Yale University student George H.W. Bush and his uppercrust friends as a scholarship student who worked in the school cafeteria. Meeting General Eisenhower by chance in a library in the South Pacific. Being interrogated by French police when he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency in Grenoble. Speaking out against the House Un-American Activities Committee and enlisting in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s. Interviewing former President Harry Truman and his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, as well as former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and others who shaped U.S. foreign policy.
Dr. McLellan often told his own story with a twist of self-deprecating humor. As a teenager, one of his jobs was delivering newspapers. That experience later inspired his essay “Dogs I Have Known.”
His newspaper route, Dr. McLellan later wrote, “opened two windows in my life. It meant that every afternoon for an hour and a half, as I read the news stories on the front page, I acquired a knowledge of what was going on in the world that exceeded that of anyone but the most educated and attentive person. Events like Huey Long’s assassination, the Spanish Civil War, Roosevelt’s Court Packing Plan, the rise of Hitler’s Germany, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Japanese invasion of China and Stalin’s great purge trials unfolded before me day after day as I trudged on my daily rounds. …
“The other window that the paper route opened was into the lives of other people — better educated, professional people — whom I’d never have gotten to know had I not met them from time to time when making my weekly collection.”
Dr. McLellan was a navigator and bombardier in the Pacific in the final months of WWII. The memories of firebombed Japanese cities haunted him after the war, and he acknowledged he was lucky to have been spared the horror of ground combat.
After the Japanese surrender, his crew was tasked with flying supplies to starving prisoners in northern Korea. He charted the flight and found that they could fly over Shanghai on the way north and over Hiroshima on the return. As they flew over Shanghai, he recalled years later, the sky was filled with kites in celebration of the war’s end. When they reached their destination, one of the big canisters of supplies would not dislodge from the bomb bay. A bit like the scene in “Dr. Strangelove,” he had to climb out over, holding on to the straps and kick the canister loose. The return flight was far more somber, he said, as the flight passed over the destruction wrought by an atomic bomb.
Before the war, a track scholarship had been his ticket to Yale University in 1942. He returned to Yale afterward to finish a Bachelor’s Degree in 1948. Then he and Ann, who had married in 1945 just before he left for war, discovered Europe. They bicycled all over the continent. In Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. McLellan earned a License es Sciences Politique degree. After returning to Yale for a Master’s Degree in international relations, David, Ann and new daughter Hilary went to Grenoble, France, where Michele was born. There he conducted graduate research for his PhD dissertation. At the same time, as a contract employee for the Central Intelligence Agency, he scouted the Alps and measured fields where the Allies might land airplanes if the Soviet Union invaded Europe. The McLellan family photo collection from that time is dotted with images of Alpine meadows.
When the CIA invited Dr. McLellan to join its efforts in Vietnam, his wife Ann, now mother to three young daughters (Marjorie had joined Hilary and Michele), put her foot down at the idea of a separation. The family moved to Riverside, California, where Dr. McLellan would teach political science at the University of California and where son Eric was born.
In California, Dr. McLellan became deeply involved in Democratic politics and the civil rights movement. His parents had left Scotland in part to escape rigid class differences. As a child, he had felt the sting of being at the low end of a rigid social pecking order because his family were immigrants, and at Yale, he felt the scorn of his more privileged classmates.
One day on summer break, he watched as a visiting African-American college friend of his younger brother, Robert, was turned away from a public swimming pool. Dr. McLellan would fix his passion for justice and equality on rights for African-Americans. In addition to his public statements, he frequently and emphatically admonished his children about the wrongs of racial prejudice, went out of his way to befriend and support colleagues of color, and he and Ann opened their home to leaders of the movement who visited California to tell their story, recruit backers, and raise funds.
Dr. McLellan was not afraid to take unpopular positions, even when they put him at risk. As a young, untenured professor in the 1950s, he spoke out forcefully and publicly against the repressive tactics of the House Un-American Activities Committee. A furor ensued. He also said the Soviet Union would be too busy with a rivalrous China at its back to menace the United States, controversial words in the 50s and 60s. Despite political pressures to support the U.S war in Vietnam, he opposed it. In 1969, teenage daughter Michele was only mildly surprised to run into her father at an anti-war rally in Riverside.
David and Ann McLellan sought to instill a love of travel in their children and to open their eyes to the world beyond the United States. In 1966, he accepted a two-year post as director of the University of California’s education abroad program in Bordeaux, France. They enrolled their children in French public schools, determined that they learn another language and understand another society. The family — often riding in a VW bus and camping along the way — visited Scotland, England, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. In 1968, the entire family boarded a train in Paris and spent several weeks visiting Berlin, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Prague.
Crossing by train from East to West Berlin, Dr. McLellan later recalled watching a guard prod the coal in the coal car, presumably to see if anyone was trying to escape to the West. While in East Berlin, the family also learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated and that Washington, D.C. was the scene of rioting. The trip ended in the Czech capital at the height of Prague Spring, just weeks before Soviet tanks crushed the Czech movement towards more freedom.
In 1970, Dr. McLellan joined the Political Science Department at Miami University of Ohio. As in California, he was a devoted and popular teacher. Although a full professor, he still struggled with the sometimes competing demands of teaching excellence and “publish or perish.”
“I remember so vividly what a beloved teacher he was to his students. He was one of the finest scholars the department ever had, but this did not take any time from his attention to students, which was limitless. He would sit in his office writing comments on mountains of papers from his exceptionally large classes. He had large classes because the students loved him so much,” Steven DeLue, a Miami colleague recalled recently.
Dr. McLellan published numerous books and articles centered on the Cold War, including the biographies, “Dean Acheson. The State Department Years,” and “Cyrus Vance.” He also edited a volume of Acheson’s letters. Daughter Marjorie, a history professor, recalls her father’s stacks of yellow legal pads filled with notes on interviews with Cold War decision makers.
Gaddis Smith wrote of the Acheson biography in a New York Times review “this is a good book; careful, thoroughly researched, the product of more than a decade’s work. Acheson’s voluminous published work and his rich unpublished papers have been used to excellent advantage. Acheson would be pleased with the portrait . . ” Reviewing the Vance biography in Perspective, Loch Johnson wrote “. . . this volume takes its place on the bookshelf next to the memoirs of Carter, Vance, and Brzezinski, and helps the expert and the layman alike to better understand this troubled troika.”
Dr. McLellan was awarded a Ford International Relations Post-doctoral Fellowship in 1959, a fellowship at the John Hopkins University Center for Foreign Policy Research in 1963, a Rockefeller Fellowship at the Villa Serbelloni, Italy, in 1970, a Clare Hall Fellowship in Cambridge, England in 1982, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in Washington, D.C. in 1983.
In retirement, he enjoyed looking at Impressionist landscape painting, listening to opera and Scottish folk music, reading Wordsworth and the British Romantic poets, and writing about his experiences. He found a haven of peace and beauty at the cabin that he built with his family on the north coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and he took great pleasure in spending time with his family, which grew to include three grandchildren.
Despite failing hearing and eyesight and the cruel onslaught of Alzheimer’s, Dr. McLellan remained remarkably connected to the world around him. He learned to use a hand-held scanner to read articles one word at a time on a large television screen. Until about a week before his death, he read several articles each day from The New York Times and was always ready to discuss or explain a thorny national or international issue, whether it was religious conflict or the economic meltdown.
Dr. McLellan is survived by his wife, Ann Handforth McLellan of Yellow Springs; son Eric, daughter Marjorie and son-in-law Gary Greenberg, all of Yellow Springs; daughter Michele McLellan of Phum Thum, Cambodia; son-in-law Roger Wyatt of Saratoga Springs, New York; grandson Jesse Greenberg of Los Angeles, and granddaughters Cara Greenberg of Columbus and Hypatia McLellan of Yellow Springs. His oldest daughter, Hilary, preceded him in death in October 2009.
Memorials may be sent to the David S. McLellan Scholarship at Miami University, 920 Chestnut Lane,
Oxford, OH 45056