The Free Market
A Hero for All of Us
The Free Market 14, no. 6 (March 1996)
In 1984, at a Mises Institute conference in Houston, some of us met O.P. Alford, III, for the first time. He was a quiet gentleman dressed in unassuming khaki trousers and shirt. His intelligence was evident and his manners were strikingly aristocratic.
Those who visited with him that weekend noticed something very special, even remarkable, about him. It was his old-world sense of honor and principle, and his independence of mind. Mises had those qualities as well. And, as it turned out, Mr. Alford had been reading Mises and liked what he had to say.
Thus began Mr. Alford's long association with the Mises Institute. But we had only just begun to discover the greatness of this man, and the drama of his life. As time went on, he became a central figure in the Mises Institute.
He was a tremendously generous benefactor who also worked full-time with us in his last five years. The week before he died at age 91, he was still reading everything he could get his hands on, contributing at seminars, compiling mailings, and doing whatever other tasks were necessary, even while discussing books and research with our students.
Mr. Alford didn't believe in retirement. He wouldn't let FDR tell him when it was time for him to stop working. "The New Deal was all wrong as far as I was concerned," he told us in an interview. "The AARP is always asking for my money, but I wouldn't give a dime to an organization that blocks all reform of social security. It is patently impossible to get something for nothing, but we keep trying."
Mr. Alford believed in work, and his constant advice to all of us was "work hard." He certainly did. His first job was bailing water from boats at a yacht club to which his father belonged. He eventually became a world-class competitive sailor who taught sailing at Oxford and ran the Flying Dutchman class.
He was a seaman, a mechanic, and a tugboat captain. He was also a pilot who built and flew his own experimental aircraft when he was in his 70s. And he was an airplane restorer for the Confederate Air Force, which he always wished had been around in 1861.
He was a grain and dairy farmer on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, producing a national champion Golden Guernsey. And he was the co-owner of a hotel in Cleveland, the publisher of a sailing magazine, and the producer of yacht racing movies. He was a great conversationalist, a witty dinner companion, and the greatest friend you could ever have.
Mr. Alford was a committed libertarian in the tradition of Mises and Rothbard, and a strong believer in the gold standard, the free market, and the power of ideas in general. He received a Ph.B. in meteorology from the University of Chicago and an M.A. in journalism from Northwestern, where he founded the campus radio station. He also studied flying at the Curtis Wright Aeronautical University.
At the end of his life, Mr. Alford was doing research on the real cause of the War Between the States: high taxes. A member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he wanted to help undo the old smears of the South. The Confederacy, he said, fought for the right of self government, and so should we.
Mr. Alford was a descendant not only of Confederate officers, but of John Randolph of Roanoke and St. George Tucker, and he had studied their lives and works. But it was his dissatisfaction with the present state of economics that led him to the Mises Institute.
"The one thing Keynes was right about," said Mr. Alford, "is that most politicians are slaves to some defunct economist." These days, he added, it's Keynes himself.
Mr. Alford set out to correct the problem. Through his generosity, students were given access to great books in economics and to our journals, newsletters, and conferences. He also made it possible for students to attend graduate school and supported important research and teaching, all through our Alford Center for Advanced Studies in Austrian Economics. How many lives he changed.
Yet Mr. Alford lived very simply. His trailer had only a tiny living space, but that was just the way he liked it. He believed that the most important things a man can have are his moral principles, his health, and his liberty. With those, he lacked for nothing, and indeed, he did.
He liked to tell the story of Oliver Perry, another ancestor after whom he was named. Commodore Perry was ordered to proceed to Lake Erie during the War of 1812, construct a navy, and beat the British. He was given some axes, saws, rope, and canvas, and with them he built four vessels. On the night before the battle, the Commodore took a needle and thread and made a flag. It said, "Don't Give Up the Ship."
Mr. Alford commented: "Early on I was taught that you have one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship. The theory is that if you neglect the ship and the ship sinks, you go with it. The same reasoning applies to your country."
As a benefactor, scholar, entrepreneur, and member of the natural elite, he was an example to our students, and to all of us. No matter how strong the storms, Mr. Alford never gave up the ship of liberty, and neither should we.
Cite This Article
Rockwell, Llewellyn H. "A Hero For All of Us." The Free Market 14, no. 6 (March 1996).