Admired in Life, Reviled in Death

The mysterious suicide of supergenius Alex McIntire begged for answers. His former stepdaughter, Lisa Hamilton, is now providing them.

Piecing together the life of Miami's smartest resident is no simple task. Few friends or family members agreed to be interviewed for this article. Those who did described McIntire as a deeply religious and fiercely private man who rarely talked about his past. Some of that past, however, is well-known.

He grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and remained in the state to attend college at UNC Chapel Hill, from which he graduated in 1967. Twenty years later a syndicated newspaper article described a reunion of campus intellectuals and civil-rights activists. McIntire was among those quoted. “We were people who chose not to fit in with Bass Weejuns and madras shirts and fraternities and football games,” he said. “In high school we were very bright but didn't fit in because we were interested in things like music and foreign films. We got to Chapel Hill and, by golly, there were 300 or 400 people who really thought those things were okay.”

One of those people was novelist Russell Banks. The award-winning author of Continental Drift, The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter, and other books, met McIntire in college. They stayed close friends until McIntire's death. Banks recalls being attracted to McIntire's social and intellectual maturity. “He always seemed a few years beyond the rest of us,” the author says from his home in upstate New York. “He was a tremendous presence.” Banks dedicated his book The Angel on the Roof to McIntire, because it was in those early days of late-night discourse and intellectual banter that he began writing. But Banks says there also was an enigmatic side to McIntire. “He was very private person in some ways,” he remembers. “Despite his openness I always knew there was a deep well of darkness inside.”

Details

Following college McIntire pursued graduate work in international studies at a string of universities. As many Mensa members will attest, a high IQ is no ticket to professional success. The eclectic intellectual pursuits, the endless thirst for knowledge, the tangential forays into arcane disciplines for curiosity's sake can inhibit the hyperintelligent from charting a career path and following it to the top. McIntire may be a good example. Though he eventually earned a Ph.D. from the University of Miami, until he was nearly 40 years old he earned his living as a schoolteacher. His résumé includes posts in Montana, North Carolina, Pakistan, Ecuador, and Miami, teaching social studies at both the elementary and high school levels and occasionally coaching after-school athletic teams. It was during one of those teaching stints that he met Linda Hamilton.

In 1971 Hamilton, then 25 years old, worked at the chamber of commerce in Billings, Montana. She was a recently divorced mother of two: Lisa, age three, and Jack, one. McIntire had been teaching part-time and taking classes at Montana State University in Billings when he called the chamber one day to inquire about volunteering as a hotline operator at a crisis center. Hamilton answered the phone, and from that call a romance blossomed.

“He flattered me,” Hamilton recounts, speaking from her home in Huntington, West Virginia, where she works as a mathematics instructor at Marshall University. “He said I was the smartest person he'd talked to in a long time.” They spoke a number of times by phone over the next few weeks. What attracted her? “His intelligence,” she says. “He was obviously very bright.” When they finally met face to face, she understood his courtship-by-phone tactics: McIntire was morbidly obese.

At his heaviest, Hamilton says, McIntire weighed just over 500 pounds. That kind of girth, wrapped around his hulking six-foot two-inch frame, made for an imposing figure. His weight fluctuated greatly. She once recalls him dropping to under 300 pounds after fasting for 45 days. He gained much of it back, though Hamilton didn't mind; she knew what lay beneath the physical appearance. Within a year they married. (Hamilton believes he had been married once before.) “He was such a remarkable person,” she continues. “He could go to a different cocktail party every night for four years and be able to talk to anyone in any field and speak about the latest developments. He was bright enough to convince anyone of anything.”

Shortly after marrying, the couple, along with Hamilton's two children, moved to Durham, North Carolina, where McIntire began taking graduate courses at Duke University; he also taught at an elementary school. Hamilton took a job teaching at a preschool. But within two years, the family was on the move again. According to Hamilton McIntire believed he could not complete a master's thesis in international studies from the confines of Duke's library. He had to live abroad. Soon he found the opportunity: The Lahore American School in Pakistan offered him and his wife teaching jobs.

In 1974 Hamilton flew to Pakistan with daughter Lisa to rent a house and enroll her children in school. McIntire arrived a few weeks later with Linda's son Jack. Lisa was six years old and Jack had recently turned four. Because they were so young when their mother met McIntire, both children grew up thinking he was their biological father. And there is no evidence to suggest he was anything but a kind and loving parent in those early years. But all that changed shortly after the family arrived in Pakistan -- at least in the eyes of his stepdaughter.

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