Dr. Mac: More than a teacher  

Note: The following story was written by Debbie Rasure for the Summer 2012 issue of Berry magazine. Since that time, the campaign has been completed, with 108 donors committing $5.94 million in support of science education and scholarships. The newly named McAllister Hall was dedicated at Mountain Day 2012. 

Dr McAllisterA stellar group of Berry science alumni have found the answer to a question they’ve wrestled with for decades – how to appropriately thank the professor and mentor who fundamentally changed their lives.  

These former students of the late physics professor Dr. Lawrence E. McAllister are leading an effort to honor him by raising funds to name Berry’s science building in his memory. Adding even more meaning to the planned tribute is the fact that all money raised will support science-based student scholarships and science education through Berry’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.  

“It’s important to preserve the legacy of one of the greatest teachers to ever teach at Berry,” said Jack Jones (57C), coordinator of the group. “With his background and talent, he could have gone anywhere and earned great fame and fortune, but he devoted his life to Berry.”   

McAllister studied under two noted physicists and Nobel Prize laureates while earning his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Chicago, where a teaching fellowship awakened a love for teaching. He came to Berry in 1932 to start a physics program; by the time he retired in 1971, 114 students had graduated with a major in physics, and more than 80 percent had obtained or were in the process of earning advanced degrees in the field. Some of his students followed in his footsteps, becoming accomplished professors who made significant contributions to science. Others distinguished themselves as scientists and engineers, helping to make history through their groundbreaking work with NASA’s moon program and other historic initiatives.   

“It's important to preserve the legacy of one of the greatest teachers to ever teach at Berry.”

Jack Jones (57C)

More than a teacher   

McAllister worked tirelessly to build an effective physics program that would prepare his students for successful careers and advanced learning, while also always making time for needed personal guidance, instruction and assistance.  

“He trained us as scientists,” recalled Dr. Peter Henriksen (53H, 57C), professor emeritus of physics and chemistry at the University of Akron (Ohio). “He taught us what scientists do, how they perform their tasks, and the procedures used for identifying and working on a research problem. Many teachers don’t do that, even to this day; they teach only what’s in the textbook.”  

Jones, a retired engineer in NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said he wanted to be a part of the effort to honor McAllister because the professor was his “salvation” at Berry. Jones credits McAllister with the professional success he had later in life.   

“He had a tremendous impact on me,” Jones said. “He kept me on the straight and narrow, made me feel like I wanted to be a better person. He had a way of bringing out the best in me.”   

Jones, one of many “Dr. Mac” alums to receive the Berry Alumni Association’s Distin­guished Achievement Award (2006), as well as the Distin­guished Service Award (2011), isn’t alone in those sentiments.  

Dr. Dwight Adams (53C), retired University of Florida physics professor and inventor of the pressure gauge that became the world’s official standard for measuring the coldest known temperatures, credits McAllister with broadening his ambitions.  

“He was responsible for me applying to grad school at Emory University,” Adams said. “He instilled in me a desire and a determination to go for a doctorate. I don’t think I would have gone on if it hadn’t been for him.”  

For some, like Dr. Malcolm McDonald (62C, FFS), associate professor emeritus in physics, McAllister’s influence went well beyond academics.  

“He was an excellent physicist, but he also had a spiritual side that came through in the courses he taught,” McDonald remembered. “He wasn’t preachy, but it was clear that he was a good person. It was obvious that, even though he was a man of science, he believed in God and marveled at his creation.”   

McAllister used his considerable talents to improve all students’ Berry experience. A researcher in the then-emerging field of electronics, McAllister brought Berry into the electronics age by fabricating, installing and maintaining sound amplification systems throughout campus. He developed a photography course and played a major role in creating the Cabin Log yearbook. Toward the end of his tenure, he established a chapter of Circle K International, a college community service and leadership group sponsored by Kiwanis, and served as its faculty advisor.   

The right name   

When McAllister died in 1986, he left a tremendous legacy at Berry as a teacher, role model, mentor and friend who shaped individual students’ lives. He played a major role in laying the groundwork for the overall commitment to excellence in science education exhibited today by faculty and students in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. He also left a legacy that extends far beyond Berry and into some of the most prominent and important corners of American scientific exploration and discovery.  

“I can’t think of a more deserving person,” said Dr. James R. Scoggins (52C), retired director of meteorological studies at Texas A&M University, about the proposed naming. “He was a low-profile person who influenced a lot of people – not just his students, but all those people whose lives his students touched.”