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Kurt Peterson Shanfield ’86

Kurt Peterson Shanfield ’86: fierce intelligence, resounding laughter.

Kurt Peterson Shanfield ’86: fierce intelligence, resounding laughter.

Kurt cut a wide swath through Reed with her fierce intelligence and resounding laugh. Following the trajectory of her mother’s academic career, she grew up all over the world, from Dallas and Puerto Rico to Chicago and Australia, ultimately landing in Portland in 1982 as a freshman wise beyond her years. That made her instantly a “mom” figure for many of her friends: smart and centered, ready to clear the table, tackle your problem, and send you back out stronger than before.

Not that she was all seriousness. That laugh—more like an explosive cackle—was her calling card, punctuating everything that had her stamp of approval. It echoed around the Quad from the passenger seat of a “borrowed” golf cart careening around Renn Fayre, or while she made divots in the turf as she taught “Australian rules rugby” to the Reed team for PE credit. It resounded off the stained glass ceiling of Huber’s, adding backbone to a(nother) sweet Spanish coffee, and syncopated a Michael Jackson song driving one of the many Whirlpool parties over which she reigned. Brightening a heart-to-heart talk drawn into the early morning, you had her full attention, the full scope of her considerable mind, and there was no place or time that could ever matter more.

After completing her BA in psychology at Reed (An Examination of the Possible Effects of Prenatal Learning on Kin Recognition in the Rat, or, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother), Kurt found an entry-level job as a receptionist at Oregon Bank. Within a couple of years, the bank recognized her brilliance with numbers and strategy, and rocketed her up to associate vice president, where she anchored teams financing major commercial loans.

On the strength of that work, she easily gained entry to the University of Virginia’s innovative Darden School of Business, nabbing an MBA in 1992. After graduation, she quickly became a sought-after consultant specializing in economic modeling and quantitative analysis for clients as diverse as the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the gaming industry.

At Darden, she also met her future husband, Jon Shanfield, ultimately settling in Potomac, Maryland, and raising two sons, Charlie and William. There, she threw herself into her kids’ school activities and the local PTA, gaining a new legion of friends and admirers.

Reading the comments many of them wrote on her memorial page, I hear the same voice they did, coaxing, nudging, prodding the people around her to relax and be kinder, wiser, more broad-minded. At Reed, when you fell short of this ideal, she wasn’t always shy about pointing it out, but her directness was always in service of something more important than the two of you: a world where everyone feels at home. The insight could be bracing; it was always true. With legendary humility, she made us her life’s work. Now it’s up to us. Contributed by Matt Giraud ’85

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