Lionel McKenzie, the man who started the University of Rochester's Ph.D. program in the 1950s, died last week. He was one of the heavy-hitting contributors to general equilibrium theory. That was never my cup of tea, but when I was an assistant professor at the University of Rochester's Graduate School of Management from 1975 to 1979, I occasionally went to the Econ Department's seminars. I always appreciated Lionel's input. He was a classy man, never out to trap someone, always out to clarify and get to the truth.
He was also classy even when treated in a non-classy way. The last seminar I went to at the U of R was in May 1979, just before I left for a job at to the Cato Institute in San Francisco. The speaker was Paul Samuelson, who, as I recall, was there to receive an honorary doctorate. Lionel introduced Samuelson and reminisced graciously about how Samuelson had recommended him when the U of R had asked who would do a good job of starting the Ph.D. program. Then Samuelson started to speak. I'll never forget what he said. He said that back then he thought Lionel was being undervalued in the market. "I'm not saying he was the best, mind you, but he was definitely being undervalued and I thought he could do a good job here." I think if that happened today, I would probably gasp out loud. Instead, I just looked at Lionel who looked hurt but quickly recovered and listened, apparently serenely. As I say, Lionel McKenzie was a classy man.