In 1991, Al McDonald co-founded the Trinity Forum with Os Guinness to fill a void: there was no other organization that successfully engaged leaders with the great ideas of the West within a context of faith. Priests and other spiritual leaders often avoided secular leaders, or unwittingly alienated them. Other organizations enabled leaders to engage big ideas, but without spiritual moorings to land on anything ultimate. McDonald saw the Trinity Forum as a bridge, a place where religious and secular people alike could discuss life’s most important questions, and do so within a context that was hospitable to the devout and doubters alike.
McDonald himself was “a late arrival” to faith. Although raised within a Southern Baptist family, as a young man, his “gods were other things.” He served active duty in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. After returning home, he enrolled at Harvard Business School and became a prominent business leader, presiding over McKinsey & Company, Inc., and eventually opening their Zurich office before being elected global CEO in 1973. He left only when President Carter asked him to be an ambassador in Geneva and later to serve him directly as deputy chief of staff. Despite his accomplishments, he felt a void, and wrestled with finding meaning.
In mid-life, McDonald joined an Episcopal Church in St. Louis, and soon after became introduced to a monastery, where the Sisters helped guide and grow his budding faith. He was hungry for deep reflection and engagement with the great questions of life, and bringing that discussion to his friends and colleagues. He formed the Trinity Forum in 1991 with the goal of providing a forum for discussion of those issues to his peers in leadership – and offer them the opportunity he had wished for earlier in life. He recalled one fishing trip with a group of business titans: “we had to fly in by sea plane to get there, and it was the archetypal men’s outing, with typical reading material available –spy-thrillers, Sports Illustrated, Business Week, — and a handful of Trinity Forum Readings!” It was, to him, a confirmation that the Trinity Forum had pierced these circles of searching leaders. And it challenged him to consider what might have appealed to him earlier in life to prompt thinking on the deeper questions, and ultimately God himself.
On his 75th birthday, McDonald sold the several dozen companies he had bought many years earlier under the umbrella of the Avenir Group. With the money, he established the McDonald Agape Foundation, a charitable fund that has established programs in seven major universities on the life and teachings of Jesus and its impact on civilization. Both as founder, past Chairman of the Board, and now trustee emeritus Mr. McDonald has given generously to the mission of the Trinity Forum over the last two decades, and wanted to include the Forum in his will. He agreed to co-chair the Wilberforce Legacy Society to encourage others to join him in the meaningful pursuit to transform society by introducing societal leaders to the God who offers to transform them.
“The Trinity Forum speaks to the big issues of life that strike a chord with people regardless of the points of view they hold or various stages of belief they find themselves in. This is why I have remained committed to their mission since 1991.”
Rarely does a change of government administration serve as catalyst for an enduring friendship, but that’s just what happened in the case of Ed Meese and Alonzo McDonald in 1981. Mr. Meese, the incoming Chief of Staff for President Reagan, and Mr. McDonald, the outgoing Assistant to President Carter, found, while working on the details of a presidential transition, that they shared similar worldviews and formed a fast friendship. A decade later, after serving as 75th Attorney General of the United States and President Reagan’s chief policy advisor, Ed accepted Al’s invitation to participate in the work of the Forum. He hoped to share the fulfilling dialogues and thoughtful reflections that he and Al had enjoyed in the past, with other leaders in order to transform and renew society.
The great grandson of a German cabinet-maker who sailed to New Orleans, boated up the Mississippi, and rode covered wagon to California to found the first Lutheran Church there in 1888, Mr. Meese finds that the Forum serves as a meaningful vehicle for continuing the traditions and values of his roots and upbringing. “I liked the idea of developing leaders of character and service,” Mr. Meese says. Born into a Christian family in Oakland, CA, Meese formed a strong faith in childhood, which later informed his view of vocation and public service, and shaped his life and work.
To Meese, the work of the Trinity Forum has “contributed greatly to his thinking,” which is why he continues to be involved decades later. The Forum brings leaders across disciplines to engage the great questions and the truth of Christian faith. He’s personally found the content of the curricula and publications very stimulating and helpful in thinking out the various issues he’s had to deal with– something he’s also seen in the lives of others. “I have written the Forum into my will because I want to help contribute to the enduring prospects of the Forum. I want it to continue as a permanent activity.”
Retiring from the army reserves as a colonel and authoring three books, Meese has led a full and fulfilling life. He just celebrated his 55th wedding anniversary with Ursula Meese, who incidentally, met Al McDonald before Ed did, while completing her Harvard Radcliffe business program, further underscoring the strength of the Forum’s network. They have two grown children and 5 grandchildren.
Mr. Meese currently serves as the Chairman of Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the University of London’s Institute of United States Studies. He has served on the board of the Trinity Forum for over fifteen years.