A Small College in Maine

Spending the past three days with my son Adam, a senior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, has made me once again appreciate the value of a liberal arts education in a time of technical and discipline specialization.  I also graduated from Bowdoin–four of the happiest and most stimulating years of my life.  I understood as a student, and increasingly with each passing year, how special my education was and how special Bowdoin is in the history of New England and national education.


Once last year while walking on the Stanford campus, a young student came up to me, pointed at my Bowdoin cap, and asked, “what’s that?”  I replied,”that is a college in existence nearly 100 years before this university was a gleam in Leland’s eye.”  Or course there’s no comparison between Stanford and Bowdoin, one a major university in California and the other a small college in Maine.  Opposite ends of every spectrum, except each having the same commitment to a superior eduction.


Bowdoin was founded in 1794 as the “Harvard of the North,” at a time when Northern Massachusetts (there was no State of Maine then) was too far from Boston to send its sons to college.  The college’s legacy began with James Bowdoin I, a major Boston ship owner and the wealthiest man in the Colonies.  His son, James Bowdoin II became Governor of Massachusetts.   In the early days of the new Republic, Massachusetts Governor Samuel Adams chartered the college named for his predessor.  James Bowdoin III, a patrician Boston philanthrophist, was  Bowdoin‘s  major benefactor..


When as a high school student in Sewickley, Pennsylvania I learned that Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow both graduated from Bowdoin in 1825, I knew this was the only college where I wanted to go. I applied early decision, was accepted and arrived on one early Autumn day to begin a love affair that continues to this day.


Did anything I learn at Bowdoin prepare me for a career in advertising and marketing?  Nothing in particular and everything in general. I majored in English and minored in American Government.  I took courses in history, ornithology, economics, philosophy, art, French, Latin and drama.  I swam on the swimming team and was treasurer of the college newspaper, the Bowdoin Orient. The most influential course I took was Literature as Philosophy, taught by philosophy professor C. Douglas McGee.  The course explored how moral lessons in literature could provide a framework to live one’s life. I think of Doug, who became a close friend until his death in the mid-1990’s, and the books we read, every day since.


Marketing rests on an understanding of human nature, of culture, of what motivates and demotivates people to do anything. Biochemical evolution from the dawn of man driven by the laws of natural selection underlie much of consumer choice. Our culture adds another dimension.  It’s the classic combination of nature and nurture. Is this what one learns in business school?  Or can Heart of Darkness tell us more about a man’s soul than Economic History.  For me they complement each other


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  1. I just found this onthe internet and am so very pleased. I am Ken McGee, Doug’s brother. I did a guest lecture for Doug 40+ years ago when I was in the political camkpaign business. My son Kevin and his family live in Doug’s home. I just hapened to google Doug and had never seen this before. Thanks! I miss him so very much. Best wishes,
    Ken McGee

  2. Thanks so much Ken, Doug was a very very close friend. The last letter Doug wrote in Austria was to my son David, arriving after he was gone. Doug helped me through a very difficult period in my life. And he was indeed the finest professor I had at Bowdoin.

  3. NIland, thank you for the beautifully written tribute to my father. It’s good to know that I am not the only one who still draws on his lessons and values.

    • Lovely to hear from you, Mary. I remember you well! Doug was not only the finest professor I had at Bowdoin, but both then and later a good friend. He saw me through an especially tough period of my life. One of the last letters he wrote from Austria was to my son David. He will always hold a special place in my heart.

  4. David Rauh

     /  November 11, 2014

    I came across this page while doing some research for my upcoming 50th reunion. As I write in the reunion yearbook, C. Douglas McGee was one of my favorite professors at Bowdoin. His courses on the history of philosophy and philosophy in contemporary literature stuck with me, a chemist no less!

    • Thanks David for finding my post and commenting about Doug. He became a good friend until the day he died, and his wife Phoebe remained so afterward. Both are gone now and I miss them. Have a great reunion!


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