Leonard G. Schifrin

February 4, 2021
Leonard G. Schifrin

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Leonard G. Schifrin, known as Len, of Williamsburg, VA died peacefully at home on February 4, 2021. He was born in Monticello, NY on December 18, 1932. His late parents were Isidore and Sophie Diamond Schifrin, both of whom had come to America as youngsters with their respective families. Len never forgot that he was the son of immigrants, a first-generation American, ever grateful to this country.

He attended primary school in Monticello, and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1950. He subsequently attended the University of Texas, receiving his bachelor’s degree in Economics in 1954 and, after service with the First Armored Division of the United States Army during the Korean Conflict, returned to UT for his Master’s in 1958. Continuing his education, he earned his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Michigan in 1964. He taught as a graduate student at Texas and Michigan, and his full-time teaching career included Michigan, Yale University, and The College of William and Mary. He retired from William and Mary as Chancellor Professor of Economics, Emeritus, in 1998 after 33 years of service. In his career he was one of the early economists to specialize in health care economics and policy, before they were recognized as specialties within the profession. Research and teaching in medical schools at home and abroad constituted a significant element of his career. He was National Science Foundation Visiting Scholar at Stanford University Medical Center; twice Visiting Professor of Community Medicine at The University of Bristol, England; and, for twelve years, Clinical Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia, now VCU, in Richmond. Len also taught at the University of Adelaide, Australia, in a program supported by the U.S. Department of State, celebrating Australia’s bicentenary year. He published extensively, gave papers and chaired sessions at many conferences on economics and on health care, lectured at various medical schools, served Secretary Joseph Califano in the Department of Health and Human Services as a member of  the Pharmaceutical Review Advisory Committee, was a consultant on Medicare and Medicaid to the Social Security Administration, served on the editorial boards of four professional journals, undertook much contract research, and was a consultant and expert witness in almost sixty legal cases, representing plaintiffs ranging from private citizens to the Federal Government and various state governments.  In the area of studies known as “Societal Costs of Illness” his published research on “The Societal Impacts of Motor Vehicle Accidents When Alcohol is a Factor,” presented in hearings in the U.S. Senate, became a significant part of the basis for increasing the legal drinking age across the country. These changes are currently estimated to save many hundreds of lives each year. This was an accomplishment that he particularly valued. In total, he testified five times at various House of Representatives, Senate, and Joint Congressional Committee Hearings, always at their request.  Despite these and other outside activities, most of all he loved teaching at all levels. Known to be “firm but fair,” he was very dedicated to his students, and was twice honored at William and Mary as a distinguished teacher.

In the Williamsburg community, where he resided for 56 years, he was a co-founder of the 1960s local civil rights organization, the Williamsburg Area Council on Human Relations, and an early “in-kind” contributor in the Community Action program.  He was a co-founder of the Williamsburg Soccer Club (now the Williamsburg Legacy) in the 1970s. Additionally, he coached youth basketball and baseball.

He loved his family deeply and enjoyed being a part of the wonderful, large, Jewish families of his parents with seemingly innumerable cousins, aunts, and uncles. He loved his country for its freedom and opportunity and the University of Texas for its unfailing generosity of spirit and resources toward him. He was a lifelong fan of the game of baseball and greatly enjoyed talking about it with his baseball buddies. He loved playing golf, fishing, watching soccer at all levels, listening to all kinds of music ranging from opera to country and western, and spending time with his many friends home and abroad.  He was known for his wonderful storytelling abilities and his witty sense of humor.

Len was predeceased by his brother Joe Schifrin, sister Iris Wallack and granddaughter Keira Schifrin. He is survived by his beloved wife of 50 years, Karen; his children and grandchildren: son Jay (Carrie) and granddaughter Kayleigh of Virginia Beach; daughter Lisa Gail Schifrin and grandson Enrique of Chula Vista, California; son David (Megan) and granddaughter Sadie Wren of Scottsdale, Arizona, and his niece Tricia Wallack and nephews Evan Wallack and Luis Gutierrez.

A Celebration of Life will be held when it is safe to do so. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Online condolences may be offered to the family at bucktroutfuneralhome.net.

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  • February 15, 2021
    Kate Slevin says:
    Bob and I were so sorry to learn of Len’s recent death. We knew him as both a neighbor and W&M colleague (Kate). He was an exemplary scholar and a much respected teacher of generations of students. An often repeated story among faculty was this: on the last day of class when students were given course evaluations Len would stride out of the lecture hall with these words to the students “By the way, arrogance is spelled with two r’s!” I once asked him if the faculty lore was true and he laughed heartily and said “Something like that.” Over the decades that I knew Len I learned that his tough exterior belied a kind heart. He was one of a kind. W&M is a better place because of Len Schifrin. His standards were high and he made no excuses for them. Condolences to Karen, David and his other family members.

  • February 17, 2021
    Fred Federici says:
    In my freshman or sophomore year at W&M, I attended one of Prof. Schifrin’s lectures, but I then had to change my schedule and take the same class with a different professor. While I liked the new professor, I found that I had learned more in one hour in Prof. Schifrin’s class than I had in several days in the other class. Prof. Schifrin made no bones about holding his students to the highest standard. But he was also a fair and kind person. I learned this because I later had the great fortune of being among the W&M students that Prof. Schifrin taught in the summer of 1986 in Cambridge, England. Prof. Schifrin worked hard to make the classes he taught that summer memorable, which included arranging for our group to travel deep into the earth in a working coal mine. While Prof. Schifrin had earned the right to be addressed as “Doctor Schifrin,” as one of his students who had the greatest respect for him, I always thought the title of “Professor Schifrin” was the more meaningful title, as that was a title that he earned as a teacher of the highest rank. My sincere condolences to your family and to the William & Mary family at large.

  • February 17, 2021
    Karen Joyner says:
    Wow. I still remember Mr. Schifrin's huge Econ 101 class from 40 years ago - including his transparency projector where he put up cartoons or Yoda in the middle of a lesson. RIP

  • February 17, 2021
    Derika Wells Mercer says:
    Teacher. Advisor. Mentor. Friend. When I went off to college, I was planning on majoring in sociology and French. My sophomore year my dad ‘strongly encouraged’ me to take an economics course. That microeconomics class in the fall of 1988, taught by Professor Len Schifrin, not only changed the trajectory of my college years; it provided me with a lifelong friend. Len Schifrin could be terrifying in the classroom. If you weren’t prepared for class, he would ask you to leave. If you were late, he said “That’s one. You get three then you are out.” (Years later I came to know how much he loved baseball.) Thus I was always prepared and never late. For the first time in my life, I was forced to study and do more than regurgitate memorized information. He would say “Don’t waste my time by dumping everything you know in a bluebook (the garbage can effect) hoping the answer is in there somewhere.” I spent a lot of time in Morton Hall and often Len and I would talk about subjects other than economics. One afternoon, he asked me who my senator and representative were back in Kentucky. I had no idea. He said, “The next time I see you, you should know that.” Since this was before google, I called my dad that night to find out! I took several more classes with him and during my senior year one of my classes met at his house where I got to meet his wonderful wife Karen. Looking back, I realize how blessed I was to be invited into their home, an opportunity that not many college students get. Thanks to the internet and social media, Len and I have been able to stay in touch. I visited him and Karen whenever I was close to Williamsburg. I was able to introduce my family to them, and during one visit, we discussed the value of a liberal arts education. That discussion sticks with me as my children are choosing their own college paths. Most recently we had been communicating about my involvement in the protests for racial justice. He would email me his thoughts about my experiences, always relating to an economic theory. On one of my FB posts, he commented, “Your courageous involvement makes me proud to have been your teacher and now for you to have been mine. I thank you for that. Thanks for proving that for me it has been never too late to learn.” At 19 years old, I could never have imagined that my choice in a college advisor would have such a profound effect on my life. Professor Schifrin, thank you for being my teacher, my advisor, my mentor, and my friend. I will miss you.

  • February 17, 2021
    Cheryl White Voliva says:
    I’ve known Len since 1967 when my family moved to Williamsburg and we became neighbors in Kingswood. As a teenager, I used to babysit for Jay and Gail. I’ve always enjoyed bumping into Len and Karen around town through the years. I had no idea he led such an accomplished life although I’m not surprised. He was one of a kind! We have been Facebook friends for years and would always comment on each other’s posts. My deepest condolences to Karen, Jay, Gail and David and their families. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.