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Noyes Leech, Leading Scholar of Corporate and International Law, Dies at 88

August 11, 2010
Noyes Leech.


Noyes E. Leech, 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 post-war 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.”
Robert Gorman, Kenneth W. Gemmill professor emeritus, recalled Leech as “a wonderful friend, who was warm and amiable; a devoted, and extremely well-regarded teacher, who cared about his students and his classroom interactions; and an institutional citizen” who went “beyond scholarship and teaching” to improve the Law School as a community. 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.
Professor Leech spent the early part of his academic career developing a wide expertise in commercial and corporate law. He became a distinguished teacher and a master of the Socratic method, known for his rigorous standards of thinking and scholarship.
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), an entirely new arrangement of legal subject matter as it related to U.S. foreign affairs.
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 co-founded the International Faculty for Corporate and Capital Market Law, a group of seventeen academics from nine countries who met for a week each year to teach one another about the relevant law in their respective countries. Leech’s work with the group led him to recognize the need for a journal specializing in international law, and consequently to co-found 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, which Mundheim described in The Penn Law Review as “a beautiful example of a mature scholar’s ability to both articulate complex issues so that they may be understood and to develop arguments that are fair, precise, and balanced.”
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 full-scale musicals, a tradition that continues to this day with a wide ranging selection of musicals performed at the Law School each spring. 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 display 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. He became an accomplished cellist, an instrument that he took up after playing trombone throughout most of his life because he was “losing his wind” and the cello was in the same key as the trombone, according to his daughter Katherine Leech.
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 (“Kitty”) and Gwyneth; grandchildren, Megan Louise Wilson and Grace Elizabeth Wilson; and brother, William David Leech. Leech’s daughters will hold a concert in memory of their father on Thursday, September 23, at 2pm in Philadelphia. For details contact Dori Pavel at