Noyes E. Leech C'43, L'48, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a leading scholar of international and corporate law, died July 1. He was 88.
"The Penn community lost one of its postwar academic luminaries," said Dean Michael A. Fitts. "Noyes was a brilliant scholar and a pioneer in international law who helped launch Penn Law into the then-emergent field. He was also a deeply devoted citizen of the Law School and the University."
Leech was "the embodiment of the view that the law was an instrument that served a larger societal purpose," said Curtis Reitz, Algernon Sydney Biddle professor emeritus.
Leech began his career at Penn Law in 1949 as an instructor in law, later becoming a full professor in 1958, the Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law in 1978, and the William A. Schnader Professor of Law in 1985. He received his BA from Penn in 1943 and his JD in 1948, graduating first in his class. After earning his law degree, he worked at Dechert, Price & Rhoads in Philadelphia. From 1943 to 1945, he served in the U.S. Army as a Staff Sergeant with the 619th Army Air Force Band.
Leech spent the early part of his academic career developing a wide expertise in commercial and corporate law. When the opportunity came to work in the nascent field of international legal studies, Leech jumped at the chance, becoming editor of the Restatement of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States (1965).
Leech had long "wanted to work in the area that encompassed problems of war-peace, security-survival, international organization, and (then emerging) human rights," wrote Covey Oliver, the late Hubbell professor of international law emeritus, who joined Leech in a partnership to move public international law to a new level of sophistication.
Leech collaborated closely with Robert Mundheim, emeritus professor and former dean, on a new program in international corporate law. He helped form the International Faculty for Corporate and Capital Market Law, a group of seventeen academics from nine countries, and co-founded The Journal of Comparative Business and Capital Market Law, the precursor to today's University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law.
Leech's major contributions to scholarship include two casebooks, The International Legal System and Corporations; the classic article on the sale of control, Transactions in Corporate Control; and the article International Banking: Effects of Nationalization and Exchange Controls.
Leech was a leader in the Law School and in University affairs. He served as president of the University Faculty Senate in 1959-60, "a turbulent period when that body was the conscience of the University," according to Rietz. He chaired the Appointments Committee of the Law School in 1959-60, 1961-62, 1963-64, 1976-77, and 1981-82, and also led an effort to reshape the Law School curriculum. When he served under Dean Jefferson Fordham in the 1950s and 60s, Leech was asked to chair so many committees that Fordham simply called him "Mr. Chairman." While a student, Leech helped form the first law club at Penn to admit students without regard to race, color, or religion, and became the club's president – a decade before Brown v. Board of Education.
Leech was also actively engaged in the life of the Law School, especially through his musical talents. "His love of music and the arts was manifested in festive holiday concerts in the Law School, which featured Noyes singing with John Honnold and Bob Gorman," recalled Reitz. Leech went on to participate in and help found annual spring concerts, and eventually fullscale musicals, a tradition that continues to this day at the Law School. He also played trombone, performing "with brilliant abandon … in a hilarious never-to-be-forgotten brass quintet in the Great Hall of the Law School," – a performance of warmth and unconventionality that contrasted with Leech's rectitude and serious academic side, wrote Louis Schwartz, the late Benjamin Franklin professor of law emeritus.
Leech retired in 1986 to devote himself to his music, his family, and traveling.
In an issue of The Penn Law Review devoted to Leech upon his retirement, Leech's colleagues noted the unusual career decision of a scholar still in his prime. "He could have been dean almost anywhere he wanted to be," wrote Oliver. "And what are we to say of his ultimate decision to take early retirement to devote himself to cello?" asked Schwartz. "We shall say, 'Here is a complete human being, rich in contrasts, true to himself and thus never false to another, reliably and nobly serving his community.'"
Professor Leech is survived by his wife, Louise; children, Katharine and Gwyneth; grandchildren, Megan Louise Wilson and Grace Elizabeth Wilson; and brother, William David Leech.