Ned McMahon: A global perspective from Shelburne

Courtesy photo
Ned McMohon traveled the world working in the foreign ser-vice before settling in Shelburne. He is a professor at the University of Vermont and teaches international develop-ment.


University of Vermont Professor Edward “Ned” McMahon remembers his first trip abroad.

“My aunt took me to England when I was nine years old,” the Shelburne resident recalled, “and that opened my eyes to the differences between countries.”

After graduate school, McMahon joined the foreign service and spent 10 years with the U.S. State Department in Italy and Namibia, as well as working for the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in Washington, D.C.

“Things were going well,” he said, “but then Cupid shot his arrow.”

Marriage to scientist Frances Carr meant McMahon had to give up the itinerant life of a diplomat. He got a job directing African programs at the National Democratic Institute.

“I got very lucky,” he said. “I left the foreign service but I wanted to maintain an interest in international affairs.”

McMahon spent 10 years with the non-partisan non-profit, working on a number of projects including one with the Carter Center around election observation in Togo.

McMahon entered the world of academia when he and Carr and their two children moved to Binghamton, N.Y.. He taught political science while she was the Vice President for Research at the State University of New York location. Af-ter four years, they moved to Vermont for teaching jobs at UVM. McMahon teaches courses relating to international development during the fall semester. The rest of the time he does research and consulting work for organizations including the Carter Center, the World Bank, Tetra Tech, which is based in Vermont, and the United Nations Develop-ment Program.

McMahon is particularly proud of the work he has done for the Carter Center, whose mission aligns with his values.

“President Carter is a man of the highest integrity,” he said. “You feel honored to work with him.”

McMahon’s work with the Carter Center has involved countries like Burundi, the Congo, and Tunisia and he is current-ly in Mauritania on a pre-election assessment mission for the organization. He has co-authored or edited three books and several articles and book chapters on human rights, democracy and governance issues.

Now 62, McMahon has taken advantage of his more relaxed academic schedule to serve on the board of area non-profits including the Vermont Council of World Affairs and the Vermont Global Exchange. McMahon relocated from South Burlington to Shelburne four years ago and has been impressed by the people he has met in town.

“There are a lot of examples of people thinking globally and acting locally,” he said. “That makes for a healthy, active community. This is a physically beautiful place with wonderful, interesting people.”

In his spare time, McMahon plays tennis and will be representing Vermont at the National Senior Games this June in Albuquerque, N.M.

McMahon continues to be drawn to the field of international relations.

“It’s incredibly stimulating,” he said. “Different places have different dynamics and it pulls us out of our world.”

Referring to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” McMahon believes the trending line is bending in the right direction but is not linear. He described himself as guarded-ly optimistic about the future.

“We can believe in the innate goodness of humankind,” he said. “This project of making the world a better place is a continuing challenge, but there is no reason to give up or say that we’re doomed to failure.”

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