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A thesis 5O years in the making
Don Green ’54 comes back to Reed

By Nadine Fiedler ’89

Among those in cap and gown at commencement this May sat a trim, white-haired man. One of Reed’s newest graduates is Don Green. When Green walked across the stage, loud cheers greeted the man whose distinguished 50-year career in international economics led the way to an unusual conclusion to his undergraduate education. So, how did a man who completed the bulk of his Reed education 50 years ago end up walking across the stage with the class of 2004?

Don GreenIn the spring of 1954, Green was a Reed senior with a nearly-completed economics thesis, a cost-benefit analysis of water resources projects. Congress was supposedly basing decisions about building dams, hydroelectric projects, and irrigation projects on a Federal Office of Management and Budget report, and Green was focusing on its underlying methods. But he came to the realization that no matter what the report said nor what the economics proved, big water projects were approved through pork-barrel legislation: legislators would approve dams in other districts in exchange for dams in their own.

Disheartened, Green walked away from the thesis. He told his parents, who had arrived for commencement, that he wasn’t going to march down the aisle, and they all went fishing on the McKenzie River instead.

His academic career didn’t stop there, however. He enrolled at the University of Chicago, where he received permission to attend graduate school without finishing his Reed thesis. A year later, he had earned his master’s degree, passed two of three Ph.D. exams, and had written a paper on interest subsidies given to irrigation farmers.

His formal education seemingly complete, he embarked on a varied and complex globe-spanning career and life journey that included:

Volunteering for the army in 1955 and teaching economics to Air Force personnel in Eastern France;

  • Landing a job with the Foreign Aid Agency in Bolivia, where he was involved with the largest development program in Latin America at the time, and where he married and had a child;
  • Working for a private consulting firm in Washington, studying compensation for the Tlinglit and Haida Indian tribes and working on projects in Afghanistan and El Salvador; and
  • Working in the Federal Office of Management and Budget under President Lyndon Johnson, where he became the head of the international economics division.

Green spent 14 years with the Stanford Research Institute, ending up as associate director of international management and economics.

Then, following a brief period as a consultant, Green was hired by the Yosemite Restoration Trust to work on minimizing commercial development in Yosemite National Park and to influence the National Park Service’s plan. The work sparked an interest he would later pursue in his Reed thesis.

After retiring in 1993, he spent time volunteering as a business consultant to the New Russia, and later as an arbitrator for the National Association of Securities Dealers. Then he became involved with a project that again engaged his interest in the interplay of the environment and commercial interests.

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Reed Magazine August