Leon Gordenker, professor of politics, emeritus, died on May 17, 2020
I heard of Lee around twelve years ago, when he became associated with the liberal arts Roosevelt Academy and the Roosevelt Study Center (RSC) in Middelburg, The Netherlands. He became a senior advisor to the RSC and that is when I encountered this insightful, sharp-witted and generous eighty-year-old for the first time. He was still writing on the UN and international organisation, and he brought a level of world-wise observation and academic experience which we were lacking at that time. He also, unlike many of his stature, took a genuine interest in us as staff, as well as the students, in our small academic community. This developed into a friendship which I came to value more as the years went by, with Lee taking a close interest in developments at the RSC, even donating his personal book collection to the RSC’s library several years ago. I was also able to conduct two oral history interviews with him, recording his time with the UN in New York and his posting as UN correspondent during the Korean War. These are now valuable documents preserving an important part of his career and also his unique insights into what it was like to work in the UN during the early years. I am grateful for his mentoring and encouragement over the past decade, and I greatly value the fact that I was able to get to know him during this period of his life.
I am saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Gordenker. I was fortunate to have studied international relations with him as a graduate student in the 1970s. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent at the Politics Department and he was one of the main reasons.
Melancholy to now remember Lee, but: if I had not met him at Makerere University in Uganda in the late-1960s, when I was doing my MA with Ali Mazrui & Co, I would never have gone to an ivy school like Princeton.
Lee went beyond the call of duty to meet me at the dinky train station & allowed me to enjoy his house the summer of 1971 when he was back in the Netherlands with the family; we left for Canada a few days late as the US under Nixon exited the gold standard so no-one knew the value of the C$!
Lee patiently supervised my PhD on regionalisms in Southern Africa & we remained in touch as we both aged. I’m flattered to be in the company of fellow Gordenker alums as Tom Weiss, Roger Coate & David Forsythe. Lee’s legacy lives, Tim Shaw, Ottawa & Boston
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