WUSTL

Obituary: Murray Weidenbaum, noted economist, professor, presidential adviser, 87

First chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers
By Neil Schoenherr
Murray Weidenbaum: A life of scholarship and public service (2006 video)


UPDATED: Memorial service planned

A memorial service for Weidenbaum will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 26, in Graham Chapel on the Danforth Campus, with a reception in Holmes Lounge, Ridgley Hall, from 4-5 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to park in the Danforth University Center garage.

Murray Weidenbaum, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences and honorary chairman of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy, died Thursday, March 20, 2014, in St. Louis. He was 87.


A highly influential economist and policy adviser, Weidenbaum has a legacy in the academic and governmental realms that began in the early 1960s. He served as the first chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Weidenbaum

“Murray Weidenbaum was an important and influential economist, a great educator and scholar, and a wonderful colleague," said Washington University in St. Louis Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. "Washington University was fortunate to have him as a part of our community for so long.

“He was a wise and trusted university colleague for about 50 years, and we have many reasons to be proud of the ongoing scholarship that takes place at the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University.”

“Not long before he passed," Wrighton said, "I had the great privilege of meeting with Murray and informing him that the university has established the Murray Weidenbaum Distinguished Professorship in Economics.”

“I know he was pleased – as are his colleagues – that his name will continue to live on here at Washington University, but he will surely be missed by all those who had the honor to know and work with him,” Wrighton said.

During his career, Weidenbaum served under or advised five U.S. presidents, spending much of the time teaching, writing and conducting research. During the administrations of Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, he served on the staffs of what was then known as the U.S. Bureau of the Budget.

After a stint in the business world as an economist for Boeing Co., Weidenbaum turned to academia via Stanford University, then Washington University, where he began as an associate professor of economics in 1964.

Two years later, he was named a full professor and chair of the Department of Economics in Arts & Sciences. During that time, Weidenbaum also directed the NASA Economics Research Program, the department’s largest research project.

He left for Washington, D.C., in 1969 to serve as the first assistant secretary of the treasury for economic policy under President Richard Nixon. In 1971, he was installed as the Mallinckrodt professor at WUSTL.

This straddling of two worlds would become a pattern throughout the 1980s.

President Reagan's economic adviser

During the first Reagan administration, Weidenbaum became the first chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. His dual role as teacher and government policy leader continued through the presidency of George H.W. Bush, when the president sent him on a special mission to Poland and as a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Advisory Committee.

Image courtesy Ronald Reagan Library

President Reagan presents Weidenbaum to the media at a Feb. 12, 1981, news conference following release of the "Audit of the U.S. Economy."

Throughout his academic life, Weidenbaum continued his keen interest in the impact of government on business, serving on the boards of directors of a variety of companies. In 1975, he founded the Center for the Study of American Business at WUSTL.

In 2001, the center was renamed the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy.

"I cannot possibly count the daily conversations we had that meant so much to me," said Steve Smith, PhD, the Kate M. Gregg Distinguished Professor of Social Science and director of the Weidenbaum Center.

"He was more than a colleague. He was a true friend," Smith said. "I always relied on Murray for advice, both professional and personal.

"Murray was a model scholar and public servant. Hundreds of undergraduates had their education enriched by Murray’s courses on economics, business and government, many of which were taught with Sen. Tom Eagleton. Many graduate students collaborated with Murray, who urged them to consider how economic principles should inform public policy debates," Smith said. "And Murray’s colleagues benefited from his steady hand in departmental deliberations. His university always could count on Murray to represent the institution with class and good humor."

The nation also benefitted from Weidenbaum's expertise, Smith said.

"He served presidents, to be sure, but he served the country by bringing balanced perspectives and civility to discussions of public policy at the highest levels. He demonstrated every day that the best way to serve is to be smart, to be forgiving, to be a good listener, and to always seek to reduce the temperature of political discussion."

"In all these things," Smith said, "Murray demonstrated the value of being married to Phyllis, a wonderful partner and a Democrat."

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