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Remembering life of long-time political science professor Dr. Max Richardson

Dr. Max Wayne Richardson, long-time professor of political science at Concordia College, passed away Oct. 31, 2017, in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas. Those who worked with and learned from Richardson will miss his Southern drawl, quick wit, and incomparable intellect.

Richardson joined Concordia’s political science department in 1990, serving as its chair from 1993-2005. He held a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in history from Texas Tech University, as well as a doctorate in political science from the University of Georgia, Athens. Prior to Concordia, Richardson served as an English instructor with the Peace Corps in Libya, taught in the Glen Rose school system in Texas, and spent 20 years on the faculty at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.

Richardson retired in 2015 and returned to Texas with his wife, Dr. Lisa Lee Sawyer, who served for many years as a member of Concordia’s music faculty.

At Concordia, Richardson quickly gained a reputation as a master in his field. Semester after semester, his constitutional law and political philosophy classes filled with students eager to learn from his experience.

“He was good at taking seriously the things that needed to be taken seriously but also keeping things light. He was also incredibly informative,” said Dr. Mark Covey, professor of psychology. “He taught me, and many students, how to read a Supreme Court briefing.”

Covey and Richardson came to Concordia in the same year and gravitated toward each other during faculty orientation. They maintained a close professional relationship in the following years, working together to develop the school’s Academic Integrity Statement and write a Credo course titled “The Reasons of Law: Contemporary Issues and Law and Psychology.” They also became close friends.

“You know, there are some people who are just fun to be around because they know a whole lot,” Covey said. “That was Max.”

Dr. Richard Gilmore, professor and chair of the philosophy department, had several opportunities to experience Richardson’s teaching first-hand. The two co-taught multiple courses together, including a Credo course titled “American Exceptionalism,” and in 1997 led a May seminar to England, France, Italy and Greece.

“He was a raconteur. He loved to tell stories. He would inform his teaching with stories that were always amusing, interesting, relevant and appropriate. He was a very lively teacher, very animated. Students seemed to really respond to his teaching, and I certainly loved it,” Gilmore said. “For me, the measure of how good a teacher is is if I learn things myself, and I always learned things from Max.”

Richardson’s charm and intellect, according to Gilmore, is exemplified by his friendship with Alan Ryan, a former warden at New College, Oxford and professor of politics at the University of Oxford. The two met at a summer conference for college professors in Washington, D.C.

“This is the level of Max’s intelligence, I think, that this really world-renowned intellectual found Max’s company the best company that he could find in this group of university professors,” Gilmore said.

Their friendship continued, and when Richardson and Gilmore were in England in May of 1997, they stopped at Oxford to visit Ryan. Ryan invited Richardson to share a high table lunch with the Oxford dons‒an honor typically reserved for the warden, fellows, and their most prestigious guests‒and Richardson refused to attend if he could not bring Gilmore.

That afternoon, Gilmore sat at high table lunch across from Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s most famous scientific minds.

“He never looked up, he never said hello, he ignored my entire presence, but I was quite proud to be sitting across from Richard Dawkins at Oxford, and it was purely because Max insisted,” Gilmore said. “Max would not have it any other way.”

Dr. Rebecca Moore, professor of political science and current department chair, first met Richardson when she interviewed for the position in 1994.

“I remember thinking that he was quite a character when I came to interview,” Moore said. “It was obvious at that point that he was direct, but in a very sort of kind and generous way. You could just tell that he was someone who would tell you what he thought.”

Richardson, who was serving as chair of the department at the time, took Moore under his wing during her early years at Concordia.

“I considered Max to be sort of my mentor in the department,” Moore said. “He was the person that I always talked to about struggles in terms of teaching, or just learning the ropes of how things worked at Concordia. He was a good friend as well as being a good mentor.”

Richardson was not just admired for his intellect; he was beloved for his sense of humor. He was known for his little one-liners, known as “Max-isms” in the political science department.

“When students came to complain about their grades, his response would be ‘Why did I give you an F? Because I couldn’t give you a G, that’s why,’” Moore said.

Covey also attested to Richardson’s wit.

“My favorite joke of Max’s was he’d take a sip out of his coffee cup and pause and say, ‘isn’t beer wonderful?’” Covey said.

In addition to teaching, Richardson also coached mock trial, regularly qualifying teams for regional and national competitions, and served as Concordia’s pre-law advisor. He helped dozens of students into law school over the years–at least one, according to Gilmore, who went on to become a clerk for a Supreme Court justice.

“Max’s legacy is in the hundreds of students he’s taught here, and not a few attorneys who are out practicing, including some people who didn’t think that was their direction until they met Max. That’s the kind of person he was,” Covey said.

Richardson’s impact was not limited to political science students. Robert Franek, a 2003 Concordia graduate with majors in religion and accounting, enrolled in Richardson and Covey’s “Reasons of Law” course. While this class was the only one Franek took from Richardson, he ranks it as one of his favorites in his time at Concordia.

“Dr. Richardson was an engaging professor who taught with a unique mix of humor and seriousness. He was ever-engaging in his lectures and had a profound passion for the material, but even more so a passion and love for his students,” Franek said in an e-mail. “Even on bad days it was good to come to his class because I could always count on a laugh.”

This one class sparked within Franek an interest in political science, constitutional law, and the inner workings of the Supreme Court. Today, Franek serves as a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. He uses the lessons he learned from Richardson to advise his advocacy work for public policy reform aimed at helping vulnerable populations from a faith perspective.

“I am grateful for the fundamental basis of learning how to read and research opinions and for an introduction to constitutional law that helps me follow in a more informed way the work of the high court today,” he said.

While Concordia’s political science department has felt Richardson’s absence since his retirement in 2015, his passing is a loss to all who knew him. More than any number of mock trial trophies or law school acceptance letters, Richardson will be remembered for the love he had for his work, his colleagues, and most importantly, his students.

“It’s a great loss for our current students that he’s not here, because there’s no one else quite like Max,” Moore said. “Taking a class from him was just a unique sort of experience that no one else can really offer. Max was one-of-a-kind.”

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