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Prof. Arthur Leigh [economics 1945–88]

“Arthur Leigh was one of the nicest men I ever knew,” said Prof. Laurens Ruben [biology 1955–92]. “He was gentle, a gentleman. If he ever had harsh words for anyone or anything, he never used them in my presence. Despite a severe visual deficit, Art built his own home, made beautiful, functional furniture, and in general was able to accomplish things that were in his bucket list. With the help of others, he was able to serve his students, his department, and his college well.”

Born in Niagara Falls, Leigh lost most of his eyesight at the age of 10. His parents read to him and helped him through school. He got a scholarship to Colgate University, graduating in history and economics in 1941. He then got a scholarship at the University of Chicago, where he earned a PhD in economics and wrote a thesis having to do with capital and interest theory from the 18th century to about 1870. There he met his first wife, Dorothy Eaton. He applied for an opening at Reed, and was interviewed in Chicago by Prof. Maure Goldschmidt ’30 [political science 1935–81].

“That was the only interview,” Leigh remembered. “The rest was by correspondence. I must say, I was very grateful to Reed for hiring a handicapped person, before it was fashionable.”

When he arrived at Reed in 1945, the campus retained its prewar character. There were roughly 500 students, and most classes were in Eliot Hall. Leigh was one of two professors in the economics department. Many of the “old masters” were still teaching, such as A. A. Knowlton [physics 1915–48], Victor Chittick [English 1921­–48] Edward Sisson [philosophy 1911–43], Frank Griffin [mathematics 1911­–56], and Rex Arragon [history 1923–62].

But beginning in 1946, an influx of veterans changed the character of the student body. A faculty office building was constructed, followed by the chemistry building and then the biology building. Reed was growing. The low point of Leigh’s years at Reed was when the college was investigated by the Velde Committee (the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities), causing a rift in the faculty in the early ’50s. Leigh was one of the faculty members who voted 38 to 9 to express their “grave weakening of confidence” in President Duncan Ballantine [1952-54], who capitulated to HUAC and suspended Prof. Lloyd Reynolds [English and art 1929–69] from teaching his course in art history.

Leigh took leave to be a visiting professor at the University College of North Staffordshire in England in 1958–59, and again in 1961–62 at UC Berkeley. It was while he was in Berkeley that he and Dorothy began taking lessons in folk dancing, an interest they brought back to Reed, organizing a dance night for faculty couples. Dorothy died in 1985 and Leigh married Ruth Newbury in 1987. He retired in 1988, living in the home he built in 1956 on Southeast Ninth Avenue, which Reed later purchased.

Prof. Jeff Parker [econ 1988–] took over Leigh’s office and courses and remained in touch with Leigh. “The discipline of macroeconomics, in which he and I specialized, underwent a revolution over the last decade of Art’s teaching career,” Parker said. “The theories that his generation of macroeconomists had developed in the 1950s and 1960s proved inadequate for understanding the complex phenomena of oil crises and increased global trade that emerged in the 1970s. The next generation of theories was mathematically complex beyond the level of earlier models. In frequent conversations with Art, I found him to be remarkably current in modern macroeconomics. He understood the new generation of theories even though he often did not fully agree with them. It is truly impressive that he was able to learn these models aurally through his readers, without being fully able to see the mathematical equations. I can’t imagine doing math without being able to constantly look back at the sequence of equations leading to a result; Art had an amazing mind!”

When Ruth died, Leigh moved to the Rose Villa retirement community. In his last weeks, friends and neighbors such as Barbara Adams Bernhardt ’58 and Mike Munk ’56 sat with him. His son, Dr. John Leigh, a botany professor at the University of Washington, said, “My father cherished many strong friendships throughout his career at Reed. He was a true scholar and teacher. Reed was the perfect environment for him, and was one of the reasons he felt he had led a good life. Perhaps this little anecdote is a good illustration of him as a professor and economist right to the end: When the hospice doctor learned that Art had been a professor of economics as Reed, he asked his opinion of Milton Friedman. Art responded with an eloquent minilecture on the pros and cons of the free market, from his hospital bed!”

Leigh passed away shortly after his 99th birthday, surrounded by family including his daughter, Barbara Strunk, and his son, John, who survive him.

His memorial service was held at Rose Villa and drew more than 100 friends and family, including Paul and Nancy Bragdon, Laurens and Judith Ruben, Judith Reynolds, Mike Munk ’56, Barbara Bernhardt ’58, Peggy Fujita ’60, Anne Squier ’60, Virginia Hancock ’62, and Gay Walker ’69.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2017

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