Gustav Ranis '52, dedicated alumni leader and valedictorian of Brandeis' first class, dies at age of 83
By David E. Nathan
Dedicated alumni leader Gustav Ranis ’52, H’82, who was the valedictorian of the University’s inaugural graduating class and later went on to achieve a series of “firsts” during his 65 years as a Brandeisian, died on Oct. 15. The professor emeritus at Yale University was 83.
In addition to graduating atop Brandeis’ Class of 1952, he was also the first alumnus to earn a PhD, be elected to Phi Beta Kappa and join the Board of Trustees. In recognition of his work as a renowned international economist at Yale and his dedication to his alma mater, Ranis received an honorary degree from Brandeis in 1982 and won the Alumni Achievement Award 10 years later (he also accepted the alumni award again in 2012 when his entire class was honored).
“We will miss his voice, his energy and his endless devotion to Brandeis,” Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence said.
Born in Darmstadt, Germany, Ranis left his native country for Cuba in October 1941, traveling with his mother, Bettina, and younger brother, Peter ’58, as the borders closed behind them. The family came to the United States in 1943.
After arriving at Brandeis with the first class of pioneers in the fall of 1948, Ranis majored in economics, played for the football team and was active in Hillel. He served as Student Union president in 1950-51 and was senior class president the next year. As senior speaker at Brandeis’ first Commencement in 1952, he shared the stage with Eleanor Roosevelt, who delivered the Commencement address. He met his wife of 55 years, Rachel ’56, at Brandeis.
Following graduation, Ranis stayed connected with Brandeis. He served as president of the fledgling Brandeis Alumni Association in 1953-54 and was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1968. He chaired the academic affairs committee from 1986-93 and served on the budget and finance committee before assuming emeritus status in 1993. Ranis helped organize his 60th Reunion and hosted a Faculty in the Field event for alumni and friends at his Connecticut home in March.
Ranis and his wife generously supported a number of initiatives at Brandeis, including the Class of 1952 Endowed Scholarship that he helped establish with his classmates in honor of their 50th Reunion in 2002. The Ranis’ were charter members of the Sachar Legacy Society, which is composed of individuals who have included Brandeis in their estate plans, and contributed to the Alumni Annual Fund.
“Gus was a role model, not only for members of his class, but for all alumni,” said Nancy Winship, P’10, P’13, senior vice president of institutional advancement. “From the very first day that he set foot on campus in 1948, he was an influential member of the Brandeis community.”
Winship worked closely with Ranis for nearly 20 years in her role as the University’s chief fundraiser. “He served as a mentor to me,” she said. “He was always willing to do whatever he could to help Brandeis.”
After earning his doctorate in economics from Yale in 1956, Ranis worked for the Ford Foundation in Pakistan from 1958-1961 as director of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. He returned to Yale in 1964 as an economics professor and was named Frank Altschul Professor of International Economics in 1982. Ranis led Yale’s Economic Growth Center from 1967-1975 and 1992-1993, and also consulted with the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and the Brookings Institute.
In addition to his brother and wife, he leaves two sons, Michael and Jonathan; his daughter, Bettina ’89; and four grandchildren, Benjamin, Daniel, Hanna and Sasha. His nephew Paul ’91, Peter’s son, also graduated from Brandeis.