Leon Eli Clark Jr.


Died October 25, 2003

College: Berkeley

Widow: Mrs. Maria Donoso Clark
4104 Lester Court
Alexandria, VA 22311-1121
Children: Giri, 1966

Leon was a profound student and a great teacher of diverse human cultures. He was the founder and Director of the International Education Program at American University where he taught since 1982 until he retired Emeritus, in 1999. He was also a journalist and an International Consultant for over 40 years working in Africa and Asia.

Earlier in his life, Leon was a high school teacher, Associate Director of the Social Sciences and Humanities Center, Teachers College, Columbia University, Educational Director of the Population Reference Bureau, and Associate Director of the Governmental Affairs Institute in Washington, D.C. He held a visiting professorship at the University of Mysore, India, and was a Fellow at Yale University following his retirement from American University.

Throughout his productive and exciting career, Leon was a keen observer of other cultures with a heartfelt mission: to bring back to the “First World” a clearer understanding of what the “Third World” was really like. His work might best be expressed in his own words: “While studying other cultures for their own sake can be invaluable, even edifying, the ultimate benefit can be the discovery of the self.”

His intellectual legacy includes several books and articles, the best known of which are a series on other cultures: Through African Eyes, Through Indian Eyes, Through Chinese Eyes, Through Japanese Eyes, and Through Middle Eastern Eyes which have been used extensively as college and high school textbooks for many years. He received his B.A. and M.A. from Yale and his doctorate in International Education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Leon’s legacy in my life was immeasurable and can never be properly described, but there were those central, quintessential Leon characteristics that will be my guide forever: Leon was unconventional, fearless, passionate, intellectually honest, and carefree. He made things beautifully simple, and yet rich and meaningful. For Leon, time was not always of the essence; living and learning were of the essence. He never sought money, fame or power, but was insatiable in seeking the truth. He was my guide and my strongest supporter in pursuing my own career in international development. He was one of those fortunate people who “did go home again.” His return to Yale after his retirement offered him a bounty of opportunities including the opportunity to reconnect with many friends and relatives who lived in the area; he relived the intellectual excitement of his time at Yale but with double the pleasure of a mature mind and a well-lived life. We had some of our best times together in New Haven in the last year he was at Yale. Leon died on October 25, 2003 while hiking in the Great Falls Park, in Virginia; he seemed full of joy and on top of the world. It did not seem possible that he would leave us so soon. As Joan Didion wrote in “The Year of Magical Thinking:” “Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. [You go for a hike], and life, as you knew it, ends.”

—by Maria Donoso Clark