Lee

by John Sides on December 22, 2009 · 45 comments

in Obituary

Our colleague and one of the founders of this blog, Lee Sigelman, died last night. He was diagnosed with cancer over two years ago. We will have much more to say about Lee in the days ahead. We mourn his passing, even as we celebrate his life.

{ 44 comments }

Pliny December 22, 2009 at 11:07 am

Holy crud. What terrible news.

Kim Sigelman Jester December 22, 2009 at 11:20 am

Lee was my uncle – my dad’s baby brother – and an amazingly funny person. The best joke he ever told me was when I was about 10 (I’m 35 now and I still remember it like it was yesterday)…he said “you know, i met your aunt in a revolving door…we’ve been going around together ever since.” you are missed already uncle.

Micah Jensen December 22, 2009 at 11:22 am

My sincere condolences to Lee’s family, friends and colleagues.

Greg Sanders December 22, 2009 at 11:27 am

I only knew him through his contributions to this blog but I learned a great deal from them.

Condolences to the family and friends.

SaraBenesh December 22, 2009 at 11:33 am

So sad to hear. What a great man he was.

Matthew Beckmann December 22, 2009 at 11:40 am

I’m so sorry to hear of Lee’s illness and passing. His blog entries reflected his warm spirit and sunny disposition, and they were a bright spot in my day. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Phil Young December 22, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Lee was a class act. Intelligent, but not snooty about it; matter of fact, but warm and friendly; serious, but never took himself too seriously. And what a wit!

He was a great hill climber (on the bike), and I suppose it’s fair to say, he just climbed his last hill.

I will miss him tremendously.

Steve December 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Thoughts and prayers.

Ken Wedding December 22, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Lee was a classmate and cribbage opponent when we were undergrads at Carleton. The world feels smaller knowing he’s gone.

Paul gronke December 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm

I only knew Lee from professional associations, yet he helped me a number of times with difficult decisions and was unfailingly gracious with time and advice.

In the last decade, he managed one of the
most difficult tasks in our profession–editing the flagship journal–and built a department almost single handedly.

Condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Jason MacDonald December 22, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Lee was a great example for students of how to be a terrific scholar, teacher and human being.

In particular, he was incredibly generous with his time-providing comments on written work, observing teaching presentations and providing advice on how to improve them, and so on. This was amazing to me because I never understood how he had time to do all of the other things he did incredibly well.

My condolences to his family and friends.

Joseph Cordes December 22, 2009 at 1:54 pm

I had the pleasure of welcoming Lee to GWU when Economics and Political Science were on the same floor in Funger Hall. It was a pleasure to work with him. On a personal note, I will always remember him for his outstanding collection of winter sweaters!

He will be missed. I add my thoughts and prayers to those of others.

anonymous December 22, 2009 at 2:06 pm

A tragic loss. I primarily knew Dr. Sigelman from this blog, but his intellect and warmth emanated from his posts.

The best compliment I can give him, I think, is that one would never have known he was fighting cancer.

May we all face our own trials with such grace and strength.

Steve Schier December 22, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Lee was an alum of Carleton College — a political science major there. We in the Carleton political science department knew him well. He served as an external reviewer for one of our department reviews. When I chaired the department, Lee gave me some invaluable advice that made my job easier. We at Carleton will miss him very much.

Sara Sigelman Schmidt December 22, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Another comment from a niece of Lee’s…

He was truly a wonderful man. I followed Lee to GW and graduated from there in 1997. I am so honored that I got to spend such quality time with Lee during my 8 years in Washington.

You will be missed, Uncle Lee!

Lindsay Kramer December 22, 2009 at 4:05 pm

I had met Lee many times, most recently at Kim and Kathi’s weddings. He always seemed happy and you could tell he had a big heart. I know how much he will be missed and I am sorry to hear of your loss.

Andrew December 22, 2009 at 4:37 pm

What a huge loss, I’ve long admired his work and engagement.

alyx mark December 22, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I had never met Lee, but I knew of his great contributions to our department. My thoughts go out to his family during this time.

Dan Nexon December 22, 2009 at 7:50 pm

What sad news.

Adam Conner December 22, 2009 at 9:25 pm

i had professor sigelman for one class, intro to US politics. you rarely find heads of poli sci departments teaching intro classes to masses of freshmen but i think he enjoyed teaching it (i cant come up with any other reason why he would).

he started the class by asking everyone to fill out notecards with our contact info and one interesting thing about us. I put that my own real skill was the ability to draw homer simpson, and then i drew him. this made it onto the projector at the start of the next class.

GW is where i started learning about politics, and living politics, and in turn loving politics. that class was one of the reasons why.

rest in peace professor sigelman. and thanks.

LFC December 22, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Condolences.

Aaron Dusso December 22, 2009 at 11:27 pm

This is very sad news. As a grad student at GW I think I worked with Prof. Sigelman in just about every capacity one could (TA on multiple occasions, RA on multiple projects, APSR assistant, independent study and dissertation). He was a wonderful mentor. And, if he’s out there reading this in the great beyond, I promise I’ll never use the word impact as a verb again!

Josh Putnam December 23, 2009 at 11:38 am

Our thoughts and prayers are with Lee’s family and the department at GW.

What a huge void.

DLord December 23, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I mourn the passing of a very accomplished scholar, yet such an understated and self-effacing person. My memory of Lee is how easy it was to interact with him and the quiet confidence he exuded.

He will be sorely missed. Condolences to his wife, Carol, and all his family, friends and colleagues.

Daniel Sigelman December 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Lee was my first cousin. We grew up together on the South Dakota prairie.
We reconnected as part of the South Dakota diaspora in the Washington, D.C. area.

Lee was a remarkable person–funny, witty, engaging, and, despite all the heights he reached, exceedingly modest. It was humbling and inspirational to see how he lived his life and comported himself in the face of enormous adversity over the past two plus years. He was one of a kind.

Dan Sigelman

Jim Todd December 24, 2009 at 7:30 am

Lee and I became friends shortly after he became Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Arizona. It wasn’t long before he asked if I was interested in teaching a large introductory American Government class with him. I was, and we spent a semester teaching a class of 550 students about 150 of whom were missing each class. Furthermore, no matter how brilliant our lectures :) we found we simply could not interest about a third of those who did show up. This was before laptops, ipods, blackberries and cellphones made their appearance in the classroom. These students would simply talk, pass notes, pass pictures from the party the night before, or get up and leave and come back. We used to joke that the first one leaving early usually passed the last one arriving late.
We both showed up for each class, and the one who wasn’t lecturing took up patrol duty trying to make the students listen, mostly to no avail. There were of course good students in that class who appreciated our efforts and got a lot out of the class but a third of them were so inattentive that they went away convinced that Lee’s first name was “Dean.”
What struck me most about Lee during those weeks, aside from his obvious intelligence and extensive knowledge of the subject and our field, was how totally devoid of ego he was and how genuinely he cared about those students and wanted them to learn or at least take an interest in our subject.
His interest in educating people extended beyond the classroom. When Lee and his brother Paul got together they liked to go to very good restaurants and have elaborate and expensive meals. I was included in one of these in Tucson at an aspiring 5-star restaurant (emphasis on “aspiring”). We were greeted with much enthusiasm and escorted to a semi-private room where a waiter and several assistants helped us into our chairs, grabbed the neatly folded napkins off the plates, and snapped them onto our laps.
Our waiter, a young, officious and somewhat pretentious fellow, introduced his staff, told us at length about the wonderful specials available to us, and, at the end of what had been a five minute peroration asked if Lee had any questions. Without skipping a beat, Lee replied, “What’s the capital of Albania?” The waiter looked stunned, but managed to stutter out, “I don’t know, but we’ll find out before you leave.”
We had a great dinner that night, but we never did hear from that waiter again about the capital of Albania. Luckily Lee already knew what it was. :)

Nelson Dometrius December 24, 2009 at 8:34 am

I can only reiterate what many have said, that Lee was a scholar, a gentlemen, a friend, and a mentor to a vast number of us. His first academic job was here at Texas Tech and despite moving to many other places since then he always kept contact with us. We will miss him very much.
Nelson Dometrius, Texas Tech University

Americaneocon December 24, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I’m so sorry to hear the news. My prayers are with the Sigelman family.

gulnaz sharafutdinova December 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm

I first met Lee in his office – few months before I started the Ph.D. program in 1998, traveling from Kazan (Russia) to see what I am getting into.. His understated warmth, calming sense of confidence, and the time he so generously shared were what I confronted as I entered the department.. I could not hope for a better introduction to the program. It did not end with that meeting in his office. It was only the beginning. I never took a course from him but learned my best writing lesson as he helped me with editing an article – going over and over, through more than 10 iterations, back and forth.. I’d like to think now that my eyes that look at writing have something in common with Lee’s eyes; at very least — my eyes have changed as a result of that lesson.. my most recent interaction with him was just a month ago when Lee got interested in Putin’s agents (the Russian governors I wrote about) – noting how he has more fun reading others’ work than working on his own.. I did not hear from him since but feel his presence and hope to carry it with me. The world is bigger and better because of him.

Adam Ramey December 24, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Lee was a great adviser and helped me to navigate through the morass of graduate school applications. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without his words of wisdom. He was also a terrific and engaging teacher. He will be missed. Requiescat in pace.

nimh December 24, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Such sad news.

I only knew Lee from his posts here, and from two email conversations about blog posts. I admired his knowledge and writing, and was very open and friendly.

I’m sure many people will miss him deeply. Condolences and caring wishes to his family, friends and colleagues.

Jennifer Saunders December 25, 2009 at 4:31 am

My condolences go out to Professor Sigelman’s family, friends and colleagues. He was the best kind of person to work with and for, and I have no doubt he will me missed greatly.

I had the good fortune of working as a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Sigelman; he also served as my dissertation advisor. He was an extraordinary editor and trimmed my purple prose firmly but always with kindness and good humor. He made me a better writer. He made all of us who were lucky enough to run drafts past him better writers. In his honor, please, when you sit down to write whatever it is that life calls upon you to write, always remember this: “‘While’ means ‘during’, not ‘although.’”

Jennifer Saunders December 25, 2009 at 4:37 am

Oh, I just read Aaron Dusso’s comment! I had that conversation too. I remember it perfectly. We were in his office and he had just read the latest iteration of my dissertation proposal and suddenly he switched from a substantive question about the research to ask me, “When is ‘impact’ used as a verb?” “When it’s being used improperly?” I ventured immediately, knowing that I would find my draft peppered with that abomination, “impacted.” He laughed. “That’s why I like working with you,” he said (I beamed, of course). “You always answer the questions.”

Best editor ever. And the kindest.

Deering December 25, 2009 at 9:10 am

To this list we might also add a couple of Lee’s other favorites: the proper use of that and which and the proper use of composed and comprised.

Marc Stern December 27, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Lee and I were friends and riding buddies who came from completely different professional backgrounds. He was the academician and I spent a career in business. The common ground we shared was our love of riding our bicycles. One summer afternoon, a group of us had ridden out MacArthur Boulevard from the District into Maryland where we rode River Road. Lee particularly liked riding River Road; it was hilly and he loved to climb. He was a great climber and no matter how hard I tried I could never catch him on the long climbs. We had finished our ride and the group was heading back down MacArthur into the District. Normally I jump off and take the Chain Bridge home, but decided to stay with the group and venture home over the Key Bridge. Riding MacArthur into the District is relaxing, especially after a tough workout, because it’s flat and when it’s not, it’s downhill. We rode to where MacArthur meets Canal Road and the road narrows. From that point, past Georgetown University, to M Street at the start of Georgetown, the road becomes very bicycle unfriendly. Over the next quarter mile, cars, buses and trucks all jockey to either take M Street, the Key Bridge or the Whitehurst Freeway. Bicyclists and motorized vehicles always have an uneasy truce, and the truce is often stretched to its limits on this very short roadway where there are no shoulders.

Unusual as it was, I happened to be at the front of the group and Lee was behind me when a small passenger bus pulled up alongside us at the red light at the beginning of the run to M Street. The door opened next to where Lee was patiently sitting waiting for the light to change and I heard the driver say: “Why don’t you take the bike path?” Without missing a beat, Lee answered: “Why don’t you take 495 (The Capital Beltway).” The next sound I heard was the quiet swoosh of a bus door closing.

Mitch Killian January 3, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I heard about Lee’s passing on Christmas day. I have been wrestling with which of the many wonderful stories to share.

As the chair of my dissertation committee, Lee spent countless hours reading through and editing my research papers. He also gave me incredible amounts of valuable guidance.

One of my most memorable moments with Lee occurred the first time we met. I was visiting the GWU campus as a prospective Ph.D. student. The faculty were all very positive and doing a nice job of selling me on the program. Lee was the primary reason I was considering GWU, and I was quite excited to meet him. I assumed that I would receive a similar sales pitch from Lee. Instead, he spent the first 10 minutes of our meeting pressing me about why was I there and wanted to be a Ph.D. student. Thinking about my meeting with Lee later that night, I realized that he would be a wonderful mentor. Being forced to answer basic but tough questions helped to convince me that going to graduate school was the right decision. If I had been going to graduate school for the wrong reasons, it would have been impossible to ignore that reality after talking with Lee. In just one meeting, I knew that Lee was someone I could trust.

Lee mentioned early in my graduate school experience that it was a serious compliment to have your work heavily edited and questioned by a colleague and possibly an insult if someone returned your research and only said that it looked pretty good. This suggestion convinced me to seek and embrace criticism of my research, and I became a much better researcher by following it. I am immensely grateful for this advice.

On a lighter side, Lee and I really connected over our love of the Tour de France. I have been a fan of the Tour since I was about 13 years old, but I had never known anyone else who cared to talk at length about cycling. When I discovered that Lee was a big cycling fan, I was ecstatic. Since I earned my Ph.D. a few years ago, cycling kept Lee and I connected. We always emailed each other predictions of the top five finishers in the Tour and stayed in constant contact during the Tour. Lee was frighteningly accurate with his predictions.

Steve Wasby January 6, 2010 at 11:03 am

Many others rode bikes with Lee. Lee and I walked — in D.C., so he could give me a better feel of parts of the city; in Chicago, as an escape from professional meeting panels. We talked about poli sci including problems in editing APSR but about many other things as well. As his Vandy grad school friend (and my SIU colleague) John Jackson said, “Lee was the most eclectic thinker in political science he had ever met.”
Lee, you’ll be sorely missed.

Ben Walter January 6, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Students are not supposed to die before their tachers. Lee was my student at Vanderbilt, enrolled in a methodology seminar. Proportions have changed. Then, methodology was about three-quarters philosophy of science and one-quarter’s worth of statistics. Lee said statistics should not be allowed to obscure scholarship, or to stand in the way of scholars’ taking risks. Otherwise, he continued, political science would be saying more and more about less and less, and to fewer and fewer people. That view guided his scholarship throughout his life. We need more like him.

Jamie Druckman January 6, 2010 at 9:00 pm

I had the great fortune of working with Lee and Jim Kuklinski on a paper over the last few years – it was clearly among the best experiences I’ve had. At one point I asked Lee how he was feeling. His response: “Everybody says I look great. My response is, “Hell, I haven’t looked great for 62 years. Why should I start looking great now?””

Brint Milward January 7, 2010 at 12:36 am

I was lucky enough to be a colleague with Lee at both the University of Kentucky and the University of Arizona. I loved his sense of purpose as much as his sense of humor. I will miss him greatly.

Helen Purkitt January 18, 2010 at 1:49 pm

The first time I met Lee Sigelman was during an interview at Texas Tech. I
was on an interview as a reluctant ABD from USC who was very
uncertain about taking a job in West Texas. I liked the fact that Lee asked hard
and thoughtful questions but found him a bit sarcastic. I mentally thought this was
one colleague I probably wouldn’t get along with if I came to Texas Tech.

I did accept the job and quickly discovered that my initial impression was
incorrect. Lee became one of my most valued colleagues at Texas Tech. He always
had time to provide thoughtful and constructive critiques on my conference papers and
dissertation. In turn, he was always appreciative for feedback on
his own work, relishing rather than resenting critical comments. Since we both shared an
interest in experimentation it was great to have a knowledgeable colleague who supported
rather than questioned the need for experiments in politics. As many others have
said, Lee served as a mentor and role model for me as I was just starting out.
He set high standards and I believe a lot of us, and our students, have completed
better research and performances in the classroom thanks to the invaluable
advice and time that Lee gave us. Lee and his wife, Carol, were very kind to me hosting
me in their home several times as a new colleague. These invitations were very
important to me at the time as I was a transplanted southern
Californian who found her time in West Texas to be a bit of a culture shock.
Lee and a few other colleagues helped me keep my sense of humor and
perspective.

I have tried to emulate Lee’s style and behavior in my approach to new
colleagues at the Academy and will miss him dearly even though our paths
only occasionally crossed after we both left Texas Tech.

Clarence Stone January 20, 2010 at 11:22 am

My first contact with Lee Sigelman occurred when I was an over-anxious associate professor and he was editor of American Politics Quarterly. He handled my revise-and-resubmit manuscript with professionalism, dispatch, and humor (the latter a lesson to me that one could be a serious scholar and still not take the day-to-day aspects of life as a political scientist too seriously). As I came to know Lee over the years in various capacities—incredibly productive scholar, NSF program officer, department chair at George Washington, contributor to the topic of politics and fiction, and a source of sage advice, I came to appreciate more and more what a rare human being he was. From that initial contact on I could see that Lee was someone who had the deepest sense of professional responsibility, but a responsibility that could be fulfilled with humor and good will along with an unwavering sense that life is to be enjoyed. When he was selected as Editor of the American Political Science Review, a selection made when the journal and the association were going through some turbulent waters, I realized that he was the ideal choice. His professional skill combined with his humor brought the APSR into safe harbor as a journal at the peak of the discipline, respected for quality and fairness. A remarkable achievement, but most of all I remember Lee as someone always a pleasure to bump into and have a pleasant chat about the state of the world, the treatment of politics in literature, or the joys of a spring bike ride in DC. Across subfields and across generations, Lee will be greatly missed and will remain unforgettable. He embodied: life is good, professionalism is important, and humor is essential. Lee’s ability to blend those three things was the most remarkable achievement of all.

Brenda (Olson) Star January 20, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Lee was my High School Classmate , Watertown, South Dakota. I have many fond memories of Lee and am saddened to learn of his illness and passing. All the above comments describe the same Lee I knew in the 1960s, Very Smart … Very Witty. Lee was also kind and thoughtful, but the image I see while thinking of him is his smile and chuckle-laugh. I am so sorry to have lost contact over the years.
My condolences to Lee’s family.

Clyde Wilcox February 3, 2010 at 8:05 pm

In 1985, fresh out of grad school and working for the FEC, I nervously sent Lee Sigelman a copy of a paper that took a “second look” at something he and a colleague had recently published.

I concluded politely but firmly that mistakes in operational definitions had lead to wrong results.

I had never met Lee, he had never heard of me before.

2 days later I received a letter (in the days before e-mail) saying that the paper looked publishable but that I really needed to estimate a probit model.

But the FEC did not have probit in its statistics packages, and PCs that could actually run data were only recently available and still expensive.

So I thanked him for the suggestion, but said that I had no way to actually estimate a probit model.

Lee then volunteered to run my data for me.

My 2nd publication rebuts Lee’s paper with a footnote thanking Lee for running my data.

That is not a very common footnote in “Second look” papers.

Two weeks later I met Lee in person, when he knocked on my door and helped me set up my first PC so that I could run data on my own.

I tell my students that many in the profession are cordial, and even generous.

But Lee routinely did things for others in the profession that go far beyond the normal connotations of “cordial” and “generous.”

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