UC Berkeley economics professor emeritus John Letiche dies at 98

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John Marion Letiche, campus professor emeritus of economics, died in his sleep Sept. 5 in Berkeley. He was 98 years old.

Letiche was born in Uman, Russia, in 1918. After fleeing the Soviet Union, he spent his young adulthood in Montreal during the Great Depression. According to Letiche’s friend and former student Victor Garlin, these experiences informed Letiche’s belief that economists can and should serve the world.

Garlin, a professor emeritus of economics at Sonoma State University, said Letiche’s experience as an immigrant also influenced the way he interacted with students because this awareness made him an empathetic and understanding educator.

“In his relations with students, he was kind and generous,” Garlin said. “The immigrant status is the status of insecurity. … He was always aware of … how this identity impacted his experience interacting with the American world.”

Letiche came to UC Berkeley as an economics lecturer in 1946, after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from McGill University in Quebec and his doctorate from the University of Chicago. He became a full campus professor in 1960 and retired in 1989, but continued to lecture intermittently until 1998. He remained an active member of the campus community until his death.

Many of Letiche’s colleagues remember him as a brilliant and compassionate professor.

“He was intellectually a super force … but also a really nice person who everyone enjoyed being with,” campus economics professor emeritus Richard Gilbert said. “He just wanted to be kind and make the university and, I think, the world, a better place.”

Letiche earned many of academia’s most prestigious awards, including Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, as well as the Fellowship of the American Council of Learned Societies. He also served as a Rockefeller Fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations during World War II.

But according to his son, Hugo Letiche, his father’s proudest accolade was a certificate of merit that he received from UC Berkeley in 1989. Hugo Letiche said his father was extremely attached to UC Berkeley and admired the university’s commitment to academic freedom.

Hugo Letiche added that his father’s idea of a perfect day was lecturing him about European economics.

“(I admire most) his passion,” Hugo Letiche said. “(He was) absolutely passionately engaged with economics.”

In addition to economics, John Letiche was a patron of the arts. Well into his 90s, he enjoyed visiting the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. As a chairman for the University’s Committee on Regents’ and Chancellor’s Distinguished Visiting Professors, he encouraged international artists and academics to pursue and share creative ventures at UC Berkeley.

“He … always wanted to see the undergrad as a potentially valuable, creative and interesting person,” Hugo Letiche said.

John Letiche’s memorial service will be at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito on Sept. 15 at 4 p.m.

Contact and Olivia Nouriani and Sam Levin at [email protected].

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