At George Mason, Ted McCord has seen it all

Ted McCord, an associate professor of U.S. History, has been at Mason (as either a student, administrator, coach or foundation member) since 1963. Photo by Lathan Goumas.

Ask Ted McCord what has changed in the 56 years he has been associated with George Mason University, and he speaks of the improved quality of the students and how technology has changed the face of education.

But McCord is also amazed by how the Fairfax Campus has grown and its seemingly constant state of construction. And that got the associate professor of U.S. history wondering about perhaps one day having his ashes scattered on the campus that has been so much a part of his life.

“I’d have to get a guarantee,” he said, laughing, “that they wouldn’t put a building over me some day.”

Ashes or not, McCord, 76, is an inextricable part of Mason’s landscape.

He came to the university in 1963 and has been either a student, a member of the George Mason University Foundation Inc., an administrator, a coach or a professor ever since.

“I grew up with the university,” said McCord, who graduated as a history major with Mason’s first baccalaureate class in 1968 and earned his master’s degree in history in 1976.

As you can imagine, he has a few stories to tell, and he tells them with relish. Such as how, as a sophomore, he was the night security guard at Lecture Hall and Fenwick Library—then under construction—and how when the library was built, he helped organize a human chain to move the books from the original library in East Building.

He shoveled the campus sidewalks when it snowed, planted bushes and shrubs. McCord said that while he was studying for his master’s, then-athletic director Hap Spuhler had him coaching men’s and women’s tennis and summer baseball. McCord said he was also the “traveling coach” for several sports because “I was the only single guy on the staff.”

It is as an educator, though, that McCord, who teaches four classes a semester, established his legacy.

“His incredible strength is storytelling,” said adjunct professor Sheri Huerta, MA History ’11, PhD History ’17, who was McCord’s teaching assistant while she studied for her PhD. “He has such a depth and breadth of knowledge about American history, and he shares it in a way that is so accessible and comprehensible to students.”

In addition to his academic credentials (McCord has a PhD in history from American University), he is a seasoned archaeologist. His work for the City of Alexandria in Virginia resulted in his book “Across the Fence but a World Apart,” about how one block in the city, South Fairfax Street, evolved demographically and economically from 1790 into the first decade of the 20th century.

For the past 22 years McCord has also been the curator at Mount Gilead House in Centreville, Virginia, which was built in the late 1700s and was used as a Confederate headquarters during the Civil War.

“He’s able to weave these narratives about people and about events in American history, and do so [in a way] that shows the human drama of the situation, but also points to larger themes,” said Brian Platt, chair of Mason’s Department of History and Art History. “Students really respond to that.”

McCord figures he’ll teach another two years, “as long as I can walk and talk,” he said.

And while admitting he will miss the interaction with students, he also recalled a conversation he had with former Mason colleague and Distinguished Professor of History Emerita Josephine Pacheco.

“I asked her when she retired, ‘Do you miss teaching?’” McCord said. “She said, ‘Yes, and I miss the students, but I don’t miss grading papers.’ I can identify with that.”