What started as Pat McNease’s desire to have something new to talk about with his wife has turned into a 22-year tradition of learning for him and several other Northside men.
McNease is co-founder of the Philosophy Club, a group of seven Northside retirees who meet regularly to learn about and discuss topics ranging from philosophy and religion to good and evil.
The group was started in 1998 by friends McNease and Dick Turner and initially included eight members.
“My wife was in a book club and she kept talking about her book club, so I decided I needed to be in something,” McNease said. “But I was too lazy to read the books.
“I decided I’d start a watch and listen club.”
Today, its seven members meet twice a month, where they listen to pre-recorded lectures and discuss their thoughts over wine.
Pre-recorded lectures and accompanying materials are purchased through the Great Courses, a firm that provides lectures on numerous topics.
The group has also hosted dinner parties, where they invite guest speakers and take field trips, and has had their motto emblazoned on t-shirts.
The motto, “Bibimus ergo sumus,” translated is, “We drink; therefore, we are,” and sums up the group’s desire to learn and have serious discussion, but maintain comity and goodwill among members.
“We started off with just an audio tape. Since then, technology has changed and the class we’re on now, we’re watching a DVD,” said member Red Moffat.
“We’ve done the Great Philosophers twice. After 10 or 15 years, we had to do it again because we forgot what they said.”
Members are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, with Dr. Joe Donaldson, a retired pediatrician and University of Mississippi Medical Center professor, being the youngest.
Donaldson, a Vanderbilt University graduate, is also the newest member. He was invited to join after two previous members died.
Two members, Bill Hughes and Robert Taylor, have passed away, while another member has moved to Memphis. However, that individual still returns for gatherings when possible.
Donaldson said joining was a pretty easy decision. “From the name of it, I thought they would be investigating things that I’m interested in learning about and talking about,” he said.
Despite the group’s small size and closeness in age, members have diverse educational and professional backgrounds.
Members include a consultant and former Olympian, a financial advisor, a millworks owner, a law firm partner, a securities broker, a telecommunications executive, and a doctor.
“We have had graduates from Princeton, Yale, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, three from Ole Miss, one from Missouri and one from Mississippi College, which was me,” Moffat said. “And I meandered through Millsaps on the way.”
Political backgrounds are just as diverse, with Trump supporters and Never-Trumpers, Moffat said.
Despite what could be controversial topics, such as religion and philosophy, members remain friends even after heated debates.
“We’re able to discuss things honestly and openly and we have a mutual interest in the things we’re discussing and studying,” McNease said.
McNease and Turner formed the group in 1998. “I talked to Dick after I had the idea and he said, ‘you pick three people and I’ll pick three people,’ and that’s what we aimed to do.”
Many members went to the same church. “Dick Turner, Joe Donaldson and I go to St. Andrew’s; Ronnie Holmes goes to St. James,” McNease said. John Wade, who now lives in Memphis, also attended St. Andrew’s when the group was started.
George Evans attends St. Richard Catholic Church. The retired attorney was studying to be a priest when he left seminary to get married.
Meanwhile, Moffat, himself a licensed preacher, is a member of Galloway United Methodist Church.
“When we started, we met at Dick Turner’s house. Not long into meeting there, one member, who shall remain nameless … spilled his drink on Patsy’s white sofa,” he said. Patsy is Dick’s wife, and she was none too pleased with the spill.
“That ended our stay at the Turners’ house. We moved to Pat’s house and we’ve been there ever since.”
The first topic chosen by the group was philosophy. From there, the men moved on to religions of the world.
“We’ve done courses on how the Constitution came about, values and ethics and the First World War,” McNease said. “I think it took us longer to study it than it did to fight it.”
Courses include anywhere from 24 to 36 sessions, meaning one course takes from a year to a year and a half for the men to complete.
By comparison, the United States’ involvement in the Great War was about 16 months.
Wars aside, the group is now studying the big questions of philosophy, such as “what is truth?”, “do we have free will?” and “what is the meaning of life?”
The latter question has yet to be answered. Said Moffat, “We haven’t gotten to the last chapter yet.”