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Remembering Ed Whitelaw

The Department of Economics mourns the loss of our long-time colleague, Professor Emeritus Ed Whitelaw. Ed passed away on April 27 at the age of 80.

Ed received his Ph.D. from MIT and joined the faculty of the UO Economics Department in 1967. Although he technically retired from his position as a full-time faculty member in 2000, he continued to teach one to two classes for the Department every year until 2019. Over the course of his UO career, Ed shaped and trained literally thousands of minds through a combination of award-winning instruction and peerless professional mentorship. He founded ECONorthwest in 1974, an organization that would ultimately grow into the largest economic consulting firm in the Pacific Northwest. The impact of ECONorthwest on developing and launching careers for both UO and non-UO students is difficult to overstate. Indeed, it is notable that the two most recent Department Heads in the Economics Department were both alumni of ECONorthwest before completing their graduate degrees in economics. More recently, he founded the consulting group FION, an acronym for one of Ed’s often repeated sayings – “Figure it out Now!” Ed continued to have an impact on UO economics majors long into his retirement from the department both through his annual teaching of UO courses in urban and regional economics (including a popular course of his own design on the economics of the Pacific Northwest) and employing UO students at both ECONorthwest and FION.

Ed’s cumulative impact on former UO students was on full display at an April 2019 alumni event hosted by the Department of Economics. At this event, nearly forty former students and professional colleagues from across the continent returned to Eugene to join in a celebration of Ed’s storied career. The activities included a series of panel discussions that provided sage advice to economics majors, undergraduate and graduate alike. The day culminated with a dinner/toast/roast in which guests shared their memories of being moved by Ed’s “gravitational force” and the profoundly positive impact this had on their careers and lives. Ed was remembered for both his intellect and an irreverence for traditional classroom norms that quickly turned students into allies in the pursuit of an understanding of real-world economic behavior. Other common themes included Ed’s genuine care for the well-being of students, his passion for addressing injustices, his intense curiosity, and his disarming enthusiasm and “goofiness.”

There is no doubt that the Department of Economics has benefited greatly from our affiliation with Ed. These benefits promise to continue far into the future through an anonymous donor gift creating the Ed Whitelaw Chair in Urban Economics. The Department is thrilled and grateful that “Professor Ed’s” legacy will be honored through this named appointment.

Ed’s career has been memorialized in several publications, including Around the O, the Portland Business Journal, KLCC and The Oregon Way. Donations in recognition of Ed Whitelaw can be made to the High Desert Museum, 59800 US-97, Bend, Oregon, 97702.