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In memoriam: Professor Emeritus Lawrence "Gene" Lavengood
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In memoriam: Professor Emeritus Lawrence "Gene" Lavengood

Beloved Northwestern University and Kellogg School of Management professor and scholar of business history and ethics Lawrence G. Lavengood died July 13.

Ed. note: Due to production constraints, news of Prof. Lavengood's death appeared in abbreviated form in the summer Kellogg World. We include a fuller tribute here.

Professor Emeritus of Business History, Lawrence "Gene" Lavengood enjoyed a long tenure at Northwestern and the Kellogg School, arriving in 1953 and teaching at the school until his retirement in 1994. Even then, he remained involved at Kellogg and Northwestern, residing in Evanston and occasionally teaching special seminars and at alumni events. Professor Lavengood was 82.

He began his Northwestern career at the School of Commerce, which later became the Kellogg School. He started teaching during a time when executive education was developing and the university was cultivating closer relationships with business practitioners. Half a century ago, remembered Professor Lavengood in a 2005 interview, Northwestern was redesigning its business curriculum to make it more integrated, along lines set forth by Dean Richard Donham.

Professor Lavengood's classes would help students — and sometimes as many as 150 enrolled at a time, filling an auditorium in Memorial Hall — appreciate the rich historical context of U.S. business.

"I regarded the classroom as a kind of theater, and the students, not as the audience but, along with me, the players ... giving shape and substance to our discussions," said Lavengood in 2005.

Drawing on his training as a doctoral student in history at the University of Chicago, Lavengood's course presented an overview of American history from colonial times forward, but with a focus on economics and business. "You can't teach those without exploring a good deal of political and social history as well," recalled Lavengood. "It was a richly textured course." Professor Lavengood taught history at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, prior to coming to Northwestern.

While at Kellogg, he also taught classes on management's social and ethical dimensions, bringing history and the humanities to bear on business, and anticipating trends that would gain currency in management education decades later.

"Maybe you start with the curbstone view that business is business and ethics is ethics," said Lavengood in 1978. "But the fact is that the whole economy ... is an expression of utilitarian ethics, an ancient and honorable system that says the morality of an act is its consequences.

"The principal consequence to be desired is the greatest good for the greatest number."

Even recently, Lavengood continued to demonstrate the ranging intellect and wit that informed his teaching, underscoring why the Kellogg School's highest teaching award for the "Professor of Year" is named in his honor.

Kellogg colleagues remember Professor Lavengood both for his scholarship and amicability.  Kellogg Dean Emeritus Donald P. Jacobs, whose tenure at Northwestern largely overlapped with Lavengood's, recalled his colleague as a person who could always be counted on to make contributions.

"Gene was an extraordinarily accomplished teacher who demonstrated a natural ability. Listening to Gene talk was a real treat," said Dean Jacobs, who also noted the leadership role that Lavengood played in advancing race relations at Northwestern and in the Evanston community in the early 1960s. "He was part of the drive in Evanston to integrate the community," recalled Jacobs.

Among other efforts, Lavengood contributed to the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) initiative at Kellogg, an outreach program that encourages minority high school students to pursue business careers.

Former students also recalled Lavengood's influence.

"Gene Lavengood made an impression when I was a student by treating me as an individual who had worth, and might even have some intelligent ideas," said Jeff Pope '64. "He probed and challenged and debated, and in the process taught many of us how to think."

Said Barbara Olin Taylor '78: "He made scholars out of students in spite of ourselves.  With his pedagogical mastery he motivated us to ponder more deeply our readings, probe more extensively our papers.  As we wrote our exams, we saw more clearly the purpose of his questions and then risked an answer that required more scope."

Stephen Sugarman '64, law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, remembered Lavengood as a role model.  "It was 12 years from the time I first sat in Lavengood's business history class until I stood before my own first class of law students as a young professor at Berkeley.  Through my 34 years in academia, I have tried to pattern at least part of my career after his, especially the part about being honest with, open to, and caring about students  — although I am sure I have never measured up to his standard." — Matt Golosinski

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University