Centre College Mourns Loss of Emeritus Economist Harry Landreth

Economist, teacher, author, and entrepreneur Harry Landreth, of Danville, died Feb. 13, 2020. He was 90.

He came to Centre in 1988, planning to spend a year as the Gheens Distinguished Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies. The Gheens Foundation of Louisville had established a pilot program at Centre to promote the study of entrepreneurship at liberal arts colleges in Kentucky.

“I found the program intriguing,” explained Landreth.

A self-described “amphibian” who successfully straddled the business and academic worlds for more than 60 years, he always believed that schools such as Centre were the best places to teach entrepreneurship.

“My own conviction is that liberal arts training is more desirable than business school for those intending to enter the business world,” he said. “Good entrepreneurs need good speaking, writing, and reading skills,” which schools such as Centre develop.

When the Gheens program ended, he remained at Centre, retiring in 1996 as Boles Professor of Economics Emeritus. He had previously spent 21 years at Miami University of Ohio. He was also involved in a number of business ventures, mostly in oil and gas.

As the Fulbright advisor in 1991, he worked with a student he thought was a strong contender. When the Fulbright Commission turned her down, he persuaded them they needed to take another look. As a result of his intervention, Dana Bland Cowlishaw ’91 spent a year in Tubingen, Germany, the first Fulbright Scholar from Centre in many years. In the ensuing 29 years, 54 recent graduates have been Fulbright Scholars all over the world.

The Harry Landreth Prize for Economics has been given to an outstanding senior economics major since 1997.

His five scholarly books include the now classic History of Economic Theory, first published in 1976 and long considered one of the top books in economic literature. Boston Globe columnist David Walsh called History of Economic Theory “simply the best . . . wide ranging, generous, and fair.”

His co-author for the second, third, and fourth editions was David Colander, Distinguished College Professor of Economics at Middlebury College. The Landreth-Colander partnership also included editing The Coming of Keynesianism to America (1996), a series of interviews with the original Keynesian economists.

“As an academic, Harry was a sui generis iconoclast,” says Colander. “Had he desired, he could have been a top CEO. But he didn’t. He loved teaching almost as much as he loved fishing. His product was his students, of whom he was rightfully proud. An economist on the selection committee of a top graduate program once told me that a good recommendation from Harry would outweigh just about any other information, because of Harry’s great track record and his ability to spot talent.”

In the early 1990s, Landreth wrote a number of opinion pieces with his Centre colleague Bruce K. Johnson that were widely published in such papers as the Atlanta Constitution, Orlando Sentinel, and Providence (R.I.) Journal, as well as the Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader.

“I was a young assistant professor when Harry joined the Centre faculty,” recalls Johnson. “He soon became my most important mentor as an economist. By example and through his advice and encouragement he supported my development as both teacher and scholar, and he became a dear friend until the end of his life. And I’ve never known any economics professor who inspired such lifelong and intense respect and gratitude from his students.”

Landreth continued to write in retirement, including the book Professoring (2012), which tracked what he believed was the decline of higher education over the last 60 years.

He and his wife, Donna, were regulars at Centre basketball games and even traveled on the bus with the teams to many away games. They were also avid fly fishermen at their house on the Dix River, their summer place in Idaho, and in the Florida Keys.

One of those basketball players, Kathleen Wooldridge Overlin ’92, remembers Landreth fondly as her economics mentor, basketball cheerleader, and inspiration.

“From my first dinner in Cowan, Harry became part of my Centre experience,” she says. “I will always cherish the memories of his class parties on the banks of the Dix River, looking back on the bus and seeing him and Donna sitting among my teammates, and watching him walk up to an unsuspecting group of freshmen before he shocked them with one of his quips. As my own daughter begins her college search, I hope she finds a Harry who watches out for her and challenges her to be the best version of herself as an undergrad and professional.”

A Missouri native, Landreth earned a B.A. and M.B.A. at the University of Oklahoma and a Ph.D. in economics at Harvard University.

Donna, his beloved wife of nearly 50 years, survives him as do his daughter, Leslie, and his grandchildren, Brook, Rachel, Zoey, and Trevor. His sons, Brian and Mark, predeceased him.

by Diane Johnson
February 19, 2020

Economist and entrepreneur Harry Landreth with his wife, Donna, a teacher and writer. He often brought her in to speak on creativity, an essential component of entrepreneurship, he believed.

By |2020-02-19T15:16:15-05:00February 19th, 2020|Economics & Finance, News|