M. Stephen Weatherford

1946 – 2022

Stephen Weatherford, an emeritus professor of Political Science at UC Santa Barbara, died unexpectedly on January 9, 2022. He suffered a heart attack while taking his weekly sunset walk on campus, thus he died in a beautiful place where he had been proud to be a member of the UCSB community.

Stephen, a fourth generation Nevadan, grew up in Sparks when it was a small town adjacent to big city Reno. He and his siblings, Kevin and Kathleen, were raised by a mother who held high expectations for them, and who trained her sons to realize that housework is everyone’s job–not just women’s work. His mother’s influence was also evident every time someone called Stephen a “gentleman.”

As the first in his family to graduate from college, he received his BA in political science and social psychology from the University of Nevada-Reno (UNR). He held part-time jobs, including delivering flowers and pizza, throughout his schooling. But he was also aided by a scholarship from the Nugget Casino. As a way to “pay forward” for this support, Stephen recently established the Weatherford Family Political Science Internship Endowment to support political science majors at UNR while they are working in public service internships.

Stephen then attended Oxford University on a Fulbright, earning first class Honours in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and received his Ph.D. from Stanford University. While in England, Stephen was married to Elisabeth Trigero with whom he had a son, Jonathan Weatherford, who would become a source of great pride to Stephen. He admired Jonathan’s professional accomplishments as a teacher and consulting field geologist. But above all, he respected the love and care with which Jonathan and his spouse, Grace, are raising their sons Colin and Theo.

Jonathan remembers Stephen as a caring and loyal father and grandfather. He was always ready to offer kind words and good advice, and he passed on his love of learning. He particularly enjoyed his grandchildren, but never seemed to tire of spending time with young people. Stephen had a twinkle in his eye, a gentle manner, and a ready wit; children intuitively sensed that they were in good company with him.

In 1973, Stephen married fellow teaching assistant, Lorraine McDonnell, in Stanford’s Memorial Church. Later she would join him as a professor on the UCSB Political Science faculty. They would be close companions and colleagues for 48 years. Lorraine described their relationship as the “big chat” with enthusiastic daily discussions of politics, policy, art, teaching, friends, and food. For years, Stephen was Lorraine’s sous-chef as they entertained friends. Every day during their near half-century marriage, Stephen and Lorraine were a source of intellectual inquiry, challenges, comfort, and laughter for each other.

Stephen was a scholar of American politics, a political economist, a political historian, as well as a student of democratic deliberation and education policy. His early research, based on public opinion data, focused on how individual voters’ views of economic conditions influence their political behavior, and how those views are mediated through social class, interpersonal networks, and the media. However, Stephen soon realized that it was important to place individual-level opinion in a broader institutional and historical context. As a political historian, he examined presidential management of the economy, publishing studies on the economic policies of all the presidential administrations from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, and conducting archival research at eight presidential libraries. After years of discussing K-12 education policy with Lorraine, Stephen expanded his research portfolio to collaborate with her on several studies, including one on citizen deliberation about schools and, most recently, on the use of evidence in the development of the Common Core State Standards. After their retirement, they co-authored a book on the politics of evidence use in education policy.

Even more than being a researcher, Stephen valued being a teacher. Comments from former students after his death reflected his commitment to that role. They described his high scholarly standards and expectations that pushed them “not to settle for okay and to really do the work to make [their] research and writing better.” At the same time, he was “both challenging and supportive,” always “kind, encouraging, upbeat, and positive.”Former graduate students noted how Stephen still influences their own teaching years later.

Stephen’s continuing commitment to undergraduate education is reflected in the public service scholarship fund that he and Lorraine endowed for UCSB students participating in the UCDC and UC Sacramento programs. Their choice of this scholarship was partly because Stephen was grateful for the opportunity to intern in the office of a U.S. senator while an undergraduate, realizing how much that experience shaped his career choices.

Stephen Weatherford served as chair of the Political Science Department for seven years (1991-1998), and as an associate dean in the Social Science Division (2012-2017), continuing as a faculty adviser for three years after his retirement in 2017. Because he was president of the Faculty Club board during the period that it was remodeled and expanded, a celebration of his life is tentatively planned to be held there in the spring.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial contributions be made either to the Weatherford-McDonnell Public Service Endowment at UCSB (https://giving.ucsb.edu/to/Weatherford-McDonnell-Scholarship) or to the Weatherford Family Political Science Internship Endowment at UNR.


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