Prof. Emeritus Richard “Dick” Leed, Russian, Ph.D. ’58 died at the age of 82 from lung cancer in December in his Ithaca home. A memorial service was held on Dec. 9 at the Unitarian Church near the Commons.
In addition to teaching courses on the history and structure of the Russian language, Leed founded and served as the director of the Russian language program at Cornell. He also penned many letters-to-the-editor for The Ithaca Journal and other publications on a variety of subjects.
According to a University press release, Leed was considered an expert in Russian phonetics, comparative Slavic linguistics and Eastern European languages such as Czech, Serbo-Croatian and Polish. On campus, he taught seminars on Russian rhyme, the structure of Lithuanian and phonetics.
He retired from the University in 1994 as professor emeritus.
Prof. Slava Paperno, Russian, called Leed a “model of integrity” and the “best colleague I’ve ever had and the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“I came here from the Soviet Union where there were no morals and no laws, so coming here to this society was a very difficult transition because I had to learn a lot,” said Paperno, who replaced Leed as director of the Russian language program at Cornell. “He was my guide, and the best one I could have asked for.”
Born on Jan. 31, 1929, Leed spent the first 18 years of his life in Lititz, Pa., a lower-middle class town where he raised sheep on his family farm, according to an account of his life Leed wrote for the Department of Russian’s website.
After receiving his B.A. from Oberlin College, Leed joined the faculty of what was then called the Division of Modern Languages in 1958.
Leed wrote that he found himself “stumbling up into a professorship in an Ivy League college in Tompkins Country, N.Y., where [he] made [his] home after a stormy and drangy interval of a decade or so.”
Leed taught at Cornell for more than 50 years. Additionally, he worked as an author and editor of more than a dozen books on Russian and Slavic linguistics, including dictionaries and reference tools, according to the University.
In his retirement, Leed devoted much of his time to analyzing Shakespeare’s works.
A collection of his writing, titled “Unfit to Print,” contains a number of his essays on a variety of topics, including national politics, higher education and animal rights. One passage includes the purported transcript of a speech given to his son, Noah, after Noah’s graduation.
“Don’t be a dreamer. There are enough dreamers out there. Dreamers who think big and never give up have committed enormous numbers of murders throughout history and have promoted such romantic monstrosities as the French revolution and the Bolshevik coup d’état,” Leed tells Noah. “Thinking big usually means thinking up work for somebody else to do for your own glory. People who think big rarely have time to do the nitty gritty stuff that makes things work. Think small — it’s a big world … The smaller the job, the greater the glory, because big ideas come a dime a dozen.”
Despite his passionate views and influence in Cornell’s Russian department, Leed is perhaps most noted for his colorful personality.
“He was the person who interviewed me for the job here, and my first impression of him was that he was the lust of a great human being,” said former colleague Prof. Viktoria Tsimberov, Russian.