“He was really as good as people say”

Loved Ones, Faculty, and Students Remember Distinguished Professor Peter deLeon

June 5, 2020

Those who knew Peter deLeon, PhD, describe him as a committed husband, a friend to many, a pioneer in the field of policy studies, and a man remarkably devoted to his graduate students in the School of Public Affairs (SPA). 

“He mentored at least half of the PhD students who graduated from SPA from 1990 – 2010, or so, as well as many of our younger faculty members in that period,” the school’s dean, Paul Teske, PhD, said. He added, “His presence was an important reason why I moved to SPA in 2003 as a professor.”

On May 19, the former doctoral director passed away due to long-term health challenges and recent struggles with heart disease. Up until his final days, he was telling jokes and enjoying life’s simple pleasures, a trait his wife, Linda deLeon, PhD, always admired. Linda also served as a faculty member and the associate dean of the School of Public Affairs for several years. 

“I was married to Peter for 30 plus years,” Linda said. “I never saw him do anything that was wrong or petty. He was a generous spirit and an absolutely wonderful man.” 

From RAND Corporation to Columbia to CU Denver 

In the early days of his career, Peter worked for RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution based in Southern California that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, and received his PhD at the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School. One of Rand’s policies encouraged employees to spend 30 percent of their time outside of their cubicles and in someone else’s to promote stimulation. 

“It fitted peter to a T,” Linda said. “He read People Magazine so he knew all the scoop on celebrities and politics.”

Peter deLeon, right, graduates from RAND Graduate School.

Peter went on to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Columbia University in New York City. In 1986, he joined CU Denver as an associate professor. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to professor and then doctoral director. He retired May 2013. 

“Peter would have 20 or more doctoral students who were writing their dissertation under his guidance,” Linda said. “He really gave it his all.”

Peter and Linda deLeon

In the 1990s, Linda Bowman, PhD, interim vice provost and senior vice chancellor for student access and achievement, was a graduate student in the then Graduate School of Public Affairs. Both Peter and Linda, Bowman said, were a powerful influence on all of her fellow graduate students. 

“Peter’s then relatively new book, Advice and Consent, helped us understand the key role of policy analysis as an analytical discipline and the historical lessons driving the imperative for policy research,” Bowman said. “Peter, unassuming and approachable, was a giant—in his integrity, his intellectual capacity, and his dedication.”

During his tenure at CU Denver, Peter wrote 11 books total, including ThFoundations of Policy Analysis, a widely read publication that he co-published with policy scientist Garry Brewer. In 2012 he was appointed as a Distinguished Professor, the highest academic honor in the CU System. Distinguished Professors are “faculty members who demonstrate exemplary performance in research or creative work, a record of excellence in classroom teaching and supervision of individual learning, and outstanding service to the profession, the university, and its affiliates.”

From the accounts of faculty, students, and loved ones who knew Peter, it’s easy to understand why he received the honor. 

“Peter taught me the incredible power of the public process and what it truly means for people to make decisions in a democracy,” said Jamie Van Leeuwen, PhD, founder of the Global Livingston Institute and alum of the School of Public Affairs’ PhD program. “His spirit will live on in the hundreds of public officials, nonprofit executives, community leaders and academics he trained to use their access to knowledge and education for the greater good.” 

Van Leeuwen added: “I expect that we will be turning to Peter a lot in the days ahead.”  

First Married Couple on SPA Faculty

At one point in time Peter and Linda worked together at Rand Corporation, but it wasn’t until later in life that they reconnected through mutual friends and began dating. “In 1988, we married, much older and wiser, and it was perfect from then on,” Linda said. 

The two had simple needs, which allowed them to save money and travel the world. Berlin, Stockholm, Italy, China, and Israel topped their list. In his free time, Peter was a talented tennis player and a double-black skier. He followed many professional sports avidly, Linda said.

Peter deLeon’s tennis team in high school.

“He was the most wonderfully unbelievable person to be married to,” she said. “He told everyone I was his better 7/8, not just his ‘better half.’ ”

They were the first married couple on the School of Public Affairs faculty—Peter was the doctoral director and Linda the associate dean. “That was a matter of some concern to people,” Linda said candidly. “Peter, of course, was helpful to me with business stuff, but we didn’t write anything together. He was also my advocate every time he could be.”

During their time at CU Denver, Peter and Linda made an endowment to the School of Public Affairs. The money has been used to update electronics and furnishings in the doctoral classroom and to support doctoral students who wish to travel to conferences.

Because of their commitment and generosity to the School of Public Affairs, faculty named named Classroom 525 in 1380 Lawrence Street Center as the “deLeon Classroom,” which was celebrated with a Gubernatorial proclamation in 2014. The school also held an event a few years ago to celebrate Peter’s research and human impact. The academic tradition is called a “Festschrift.”

“Peter will be greatly missed,” Teske said. “He was a better human being than even a scholar.”

Linda echoed the sentiment. 

He was really as good as people say.” 

Read more about Peter deLeon’s accomplishments in a story posted on the School of Public Affairs website.