The Passing of Professor John Sheahan

To the Williams community,

It is my sad duty to inform you that John Sheahan, the William Brough Professor of Economics, Emeritus, passed away on Aug. 19, at the age of 93.

John was born in Toledo, Ohio. The family moved several times and ultimately relocated to San Diego, where he met another new arrival, Denise Eugenie Morlino, from Poitiers, France. They soon became a couple, walking home together through Balboa Park after school. In 1942, John entered Stanford with the intention of studying engineering. World War II was under way, and the Army had other plans for John, who was drafted and fought bravely on the front lines in Belgium, Alsace and Germany, earning a Purple Heart Medal. Discharged in 1946, he returned to Stanford and Denise, whom he soon married.

John remained devoted to Denise for the 66 years of their marriage. He changed his mind about engineering, however, switching to the Ph.D. program in economics at Harvard. Once again, he was pulled away: this time to work for the Marshall Plan in Paris. From there he contributed to Norwegian and Danish postwar recovery efforts and acted as an early adviser to NATO. The couple’s children, Yvette and Bernard, were both born in Paris during this time.

After returning to the States in 1954, John was hired at Williams, where he served on the original faculty of the Center for Development Economics (CDE), and twice as its chair. He also continued to consult for foreign governments, especially in Latin America and southeast Asia. President Carter appointed John to the White House Council on Wage and Price Stability in the 1970s, and he served as an adviser to USAID and the World Bank during this time, as well.

John’s Williams colleagues and students describe him as a thoughtful and encouraging teacher, at his gentle best in small classes. Catharine Bond Hill ’76, our former economics professor and provost, and more recently president of Vassar College, recalls, “Professor Sheahan was one of my favorite teachers. He was highly effective because he had experience working abroad on real policy issues. He understood that effective policies weren’t just about a country’s economics but also history, culture and politics. This resonated with the CDE students, who had to understand both the economics and the context within which they would be making or recommending policy. He was a clear, thoughtful and patient professor, whom the students valued and respected, and who helped create the superb program we still have today.”

Roger Bolton, John’s colleague and fellow William Brough Professor, Emeritus, recalls that John was active for many years in Williams’s Latin American studies program. Its interdisciplinarity appealed to his diverse interests, which spanned everything from the post-WWII French economy to economic planning strategy in Mexico to U.S. incomes policy, about which he testified to Congress in 1971.

John retired from Williams in 1994, following 40 years of outstanding service on the faculty. Denise predeceased him in 2012. He is survived by his two children and their families: Yvette Kirby, her husband William and their children Ted and Elizabeth, of Lexington, Mass.; and Bernard Sheahan, his wife Alison Nevin Sheahan ’81 and their children Samantha, John Bernard, William and Amy, of Arlington, Va.

John will be interred in the Williams College cemetery. The family invites all who knew him to share their reminiscences in an online book of memories.


Adam Falk