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Thomas Borcherding

Passionate scholar and mentor, loving husband and father

Thomas Borcherding, Claremont Graduate University professor of economics, died suddenly in his Claremont home on February 12, 2014 of an apparent heart attack. He was 74.

“Tom B” was born on February 18, 1939, the son of Earl and Vivian Borcherding, and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio with his brother Jim. He became an Eagle Scout and developed a lifelong love of nature and birding. He found his passion for economics later while pursuing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Cincinnati, his PhD at Duke University and a research fellowship at the University of Virginia.

After Duke, he became an assistant professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. There he met his lifelong love, Rhoda, who was a master’s student in German literature. They were married in 1968 at a free-spirited beach ceremony by the waters of Puget Sound.

As is common in academe, “Professor B” moved to where better jobs could be found. He worked for Virginia Tech, where his son Matthew was born. He became a full professor at Simon Fraser University just outside Vancouver, Canada, where his son Benjamin was born. Escaping the stagnant early ‘80s Canadian economy and Vancouver’s endless rain, he moved to the sun and warmth of Claremont in 1983 and has been here ever since.

He became one of the pillars of the Department of Economics at Claremont Graduate University, serving as chair or co-chair of the department from 1991 to 1994 and again in 2000 and from 2002 to 2003. He also, however, taught courses at Claremont McKenna, Pitzer and Pomona Colleges. When Ms. Borcherding became director of Pomona College’s study abroad program, the Borcherdings both became integral parts of the Claremont Colleges community. Both Matthew and Benjamin graduated from Pomona College.

Mr. Borcherding was a passionate teacher and an enthusiastic participant at frequent seminars and talks throughout the Claremont Colleges. A noted author of many papers in the field of public choice, his wide-ranging expertise also included microeconomics, property rights, exchange and transaction costs and sociological economics. He had a lengthy association with the publication Economic Inquiry and served as senior editor of the journal from 1993 to 1997.

He brought a love of learning and an irreverent sense of humor to all his work. All of this granted him wide popularity in the academic community. He especially loved mentoring students, taking great satisfaction in their success—so much so that many have kept in regular touch with him decades after receiving their degrees.

“Economics courses have a reputation for being dry, but not when Tom B taught them,” said Professor Heather Campbell, chair of the Department of Economics, in a recent CGU tribute. “He loved economics, and all the social sciences beyond, and his never-flagging excitement and interest were contagious. His students loved him, and he was so dedicated to them.”

Mr. Borcherding loved his sons tremendously, reading to them endlessly of Hobbits, dinosaurs and Curious George. He taught them a love of books and nature, how to throw a baseball, keep score, disparage the designated hitter and, later, to love the LA Dodgers. He taught them to write, to give a logical argument, to question authority (especially the government) and, inadvertently, to drive their parents a bit nuts.

He is survived by Jim, Rhoda, Matthew and Benjamin; by Matthew’s wife Nicole and their daughter Claire; and by his dog, Luigi. 

Mr. Borcherding’s family has been greatly touched by the outpouring of love, support and remembrance from the Claremont Colleges community, from friends and colleagues from around the world, and especially from Professor B’s current and past students.

There will be a memorial service for Mr. Borcherding at “Little” Bridges Hall of Music at Pomona College on Saturday, March 29 at 11 a.m. It will be followed by a reception at the Memorial Garden next door. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the ASPCA (for Tom’s love of canine companions) or the Audubon Society (for his love of birding).

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