Cynical philanthropy makes Saxe an Arlington favorite
Potentially one of Arlington's most well-known political and philanthropic figures, Dr. Allan Saxe reflects on his life of fortune and misery
Few figures in Arlington’s history have had the profound effect on political discourse as Dr. Allan Saxe.
Just the mention of his name in almost any group will elicit comments of admiration; “I love Dr. Saxe!” or “He’s my favorite professor” are phrases that frequently follow his mention.
At five-foot-three, UTA’s associate political science professor is an unassuming and humble person. His gait is hampered by a small limp he attributes to old age and a rough bout with Polio as a child. His peppy attitude is married with a surprisingly crude sense of humor.
On Monday, I sat down with Dr. Saxe for an intimate three-hour interview in which he revealed some of the highs and lows of his 78-year existence, and opined on the tumultuous political climate which currently permeates Arlington, America, and college campuses.
Although known for his spirit and philanthropic nature, Dr. Saxe maintains a comically cynical worldview.
“All of life is an absurdity,” he said as we began our discussion. “It’s cruel. It’s suffering. Nobody wants to hear that, but it motivates me.”
Never married and without posterity, he bluntly admitted he wouldn’t bring any life into the world. Free of familial obligations, every dollar of his worth has been committed or donated to non-profits and philanthropic endeavors.
“I want to be remembered now,” he said. “Not when I’m dead and six feet in the ground.”
Arlington is peppered with his name, which reflects his portfolio of commitments; from Allan Saxe Park in Southwest Arlington to Allan Saxe Field at UTA to Allan Saxe Parkway in North Arlington.
Such a giving reputation comes with its burdens. Around the holiday season, Dr. Saxe faces an abnormal amount of solicitations for money, which places his guard on high alert. In fact, when I called to request an interview and opened with “I have a question for you,” he quickly said “no.”
“A lot of people think I’m rich,” he said. “I’ve actually given every dollar away and still have many obligations that will keep my finances occupied for years.”
It must be an overtly kind nature and giving spirit that compels Dr. Saxe to give so much, right?
“I do it out of insecurity,” he stated bluntly. “I can’t do a thing; I can barely tie my shoes. So I give my money to people who can do things.”
His insecurity traces back to his childhood, when he was diagnosed with Polio at around the age of nine. It “hit him like a sledgehammer in the back of the head” while he was waiting at a bus stop one morning.
“My parents were in denial about it,” he said. “It was a terrible scourge in those days.”
It was a handicap that would shape his life for years to come. Dr. Saxe recalled being a “little bitty kid with a limp” who faced an unbelievable amount of bullying.
“I learned that people enjoyed seeing me in trouble,” he said. “In high school, I invented some glasses with windshield wipers on them. It was fun. Some of the big brutes took the glasses from me and stomped on them. I went and told the teacher and they laughed.”
But things took a turn for the better when he attended the University of Oklahoma and was recruited by Coach Bud Wilkinson to tutor some of his players.
“To have this great football coach call me up and ask me to help out the team in some of their classes was really something,” Dr. Saxe said.
He tutored players for three years.
“Going around with the football players was a dream come true,” he recalled. “I envied them. It was a different world.”
He would complete his master’s degree in political science in Oklahoma before moving to Arlington in 1965 to take on a teaching role as an assistant professor at then-Arlington State College. He was hired with the condition that he would obtain a PhD, which he completed in 1969.
Why would he take an interest in political science?
“I have no idea why,” he answered, before quickly following up with the idea that it must have been because he loved to talk.
“I was always an outsider; an observer of life more than a participant,” he added.
Dr. Saxe came to UTA during a period of “upheaval.” Segregation was still prevalent throughout the south, and the school’s mascot, the Rebels, had become a political flashpoint on campus.
He recounted one specific lunch during which -- acting entirely on impulse -- he marched out to a flagpole in front of the student center and pulled down the rebel flag. He gained praises and threats in the moment.
“That compulsiveness is still with me today,” he said with a smile.
In the 1970’s, Dr. Saxe even ran for Arlington City Council – a race that, when thought back upon, he admits he’s glad he lost. But in doing so he was introduced to important people.
He asserts that city government in the present is “more open and responsive than it has ever been in the history of Arlington.”
“If people don’t like decisions they’re allowed to go to City Hall and speak to the Council,” Dr. Saxe said. “But they should be respectful. I’ve learned through the years that sometimes sugar works better than vinegar.”
His firebrand of conservatism mixed with libertarianism makes him a popular resource for radio talk shows.
“I think I can speak to people about complex subjects in a fairly common-sense way,” he said. “I talk in plain English.”
He even moderated a lighthearted debate in 2015 between then-Mayor Robert Cluck and the city’s current mayor, Jeff Williams.
He added that his knowledge of history has helped his reputation, with some friends going as far to refer to him as a “walking Google.”
In his opinion, the current political atmosphere is “mean and divisive,” but far from the first polarization to occur in America.
“Someone is always going to be hurt by free speech,” he said. “But free speech isn’t about just protecting popular opinion, but unpopular opinion as well.”
In his case, he delivers his opinions with lots of laughter and sarcasm.
“I think the reason why I come across very nice is because I’m insecure,” he said. “I try to be kind to people so they won’t slug me.”
His admittedly modest lifestyle was interrupted in 1992 with the death of his mother. As an only child, he inherited her $500,000 savings that he would donate to charity through the years.
He was an instrumental figure in helping boost the Arlington Life Shelter and in starting Mission Arlington’s free dental clinic. Fine arts non-profits, including Theatre Arlington and Levitt Pavilion, have benefited from Dr. Saxe’s generosity as well.
He kickstarted a low-cost loan program offered by the federal government at UTA by donating the $10,000 the school needed as a local match. He also started the “Mean Green” low-cost loan program at the University of North Texas and a scholarship endowment at Tarrant County College.
He’s donated to Dallas Parkland Hospital and JPS Hospital in Arlington; the latter of which bears his name on a stone marquee.
He closely compares his financial habits to that of a carefree 25-year-old. He doesn’t have a pension, and has even been known to give as much as half of his salary away.
“I really believe in ‘here today, gone tomorrow,’” he said.
His signature spirit should carry him safely into retirement, which he hopes to accomplish in 2020. He would still like to teach at least one class, but said most of his time would be invested in volunteering with organizations like Meals on Wheels and being a “crusader for older people.”
To Dr. Saxe, Arlington has been good. And in turn, he has been good to Arlington.
This story is part of the Arlington Voice's 25 Days of Good News series