While O’Scannlain was serving, by his own telling, as “a cog” in the Eisenhower campaign, he joined the New York Young Republicans and became active in the Young Republican National Federation. He graduated from St. John’s University in June 1957, and he spent much of the next two years helping his father with the family travel business and volunteering with the Young Republicans in his spare time. He eventually won election to the Executive Committee of the Young Republican National Federation as the vice president for international affairs. That role came with the responsibility of organizing—along with his counterpart for the Young Democrats—the Second Atlantic Conference of Young Political Leaders in the summer of 1960.
The conference was a heady project: It convened 70 U.S. political leaders (including several senators and members of Congress) and 70 leaders from other NATO countries. Running the operation took him to the White House and into meetings with President Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. He became involved in “a lot of Republican things” during this period. He also grew close to William A. Rusher, the new publisher of the National Review, which would emerge as America’s preeminent journal of conservative politics and thought.
O’Scannlain matriculated at Harvard Law School in the fall of 1960, just weeks after the conference concluded. He describes his admission to Harvard as “a great turning point in my life.”
That is an understatement. It was at Harvard, as a 2L, that O’Scannlain attended a spring meeting of the Harvard Young Republicans and met a confident young woman by the name of Maura Nolan. Miss Nolan was not a Harvard student. She was a Stanford alumna and chief of staff to Dean Wesley Bevins, who oversaw the law school’s administrative functions. She nevertheless ran for the post of chapter secretary and—inevitably, to all who know her—won the election.
For some reason lost to time and space, this unlikely feat did not itself leave O’Scannlain hopelessly besotted with Miss Nolan. But providence intervened again at the end of that summer, when O’Scannlain returned early to campus to work as a research assistant for one of his professors. His arrival before the term began required him to consult with Dean Bevin’s office, and thus Miss Nolan, about access to the dormitories. Negotiating over the accommodations brought about more than just a bigger room with a better view. The couple started seeing each other socially thereafter. (NB: This involved attending Catholic Mass and the occasional movie together. Nothing untoward.)