A Historic Legacy
In 1962, Sears McGee left for Cambridge on a scholarship as an aspiring lawyer. He returned fascinated by early modern European history and earned fellowships that supported all seven years of graduate school at Yale. Through his extensive studies, Sears recognized how powerful a legacy can be. Sears and his wife, Marni, have created their own through a planned gift commitment to endow the Mary Beth McGee Fellowship for graduate students in the UC Santa Barbara Department of History.
“When I was at Yale, fellowships that had been set up a century ago were still supporting people like me,” said Sears, now professor emeritus. “Legacy, from our point of view, is to do everything we can to be a valuable component of the history department’s support base. We’re going to be around for a long time, in that sense.” By naming UC Santa Barbara as a beneficiary of both a retirement plan and a living trust, the McGees have established their own way of supporting graduate students of the future.
The McGee family arrived at UC Santa Barbara in 1971. Sears taught history on campus for 47 years, six of which he served as department chair. He helped launch The UCSB History Associates, created in 1987 with the dual purpose of uniting interested community members with faculty and raising money to support graduate students. As Sears neared retirement, the McGees decided to continue their deep involvement in the Department of History by endowing a fellowship in honor of Sears’s late mother, Mary Beth, who inspired his love of reading.
“Marni and I are both writers who love words and take the writing process very seriously, and my mother was the same way,” said Sears. “One of the particularly enjoyable parts of our marriage is the time we spend writing and talking about reading. To enable others to do that as time goes on is special.”
Marni is an author who has published 20 picture books for young children, many of which have also appeared in foreign language editions. One of her recent picture books is “Winston the Book Wolf,” about a wolf who loves words so much that he eats books.
“I’ve had people tell me that their children took certain picture books of mine off to college with them because they were comforting,” said Marni. “In a very personal way, the idea of staying involved [in education] is important to us.”
Sixth-year Ph.D. student Elizabeth Schmidt received the first Mary Beth McGee Fellowship in 2021. The Mary Beth McGee Fellowship will help fund a research trip to England, where Elizabeth will visit national archives and universities to examine the political, economic, and culinary relationship between Philadelphia and Kingston, Jamaica. This fellowship will help Elizabeth make up for the research year she lost during COVID-19 by allowing her to focus on writing rather than teaching.
“Sears and Marni have really been advocates for the history department at UC Santa Barbara,” said Elizabeth. “That kind of support means a lot.”