Former Yale Treasurer and Attorney John Ecklund Dies

John E. Ecklund, who left a career as a prominent New Haven attorney to serve for more than a decade as treasurer of Yale University, died March 9 in New Haven after a long illness. He was 84 years old.

A 1938 graduate of Yale College and 1941 graduate of the Yale Law School, Mr. Ecklund had been a partner in the law firm of Wiggin & Dana, serving as general counsel for Yale for 12 years. He was appointed Yale’s treasurer in 1965. In that post, he was one of the University’s senior administrative officers, with responsibility for extensive fiscal and budgetary activities.

During his career as treasurer, Mr. Ecklund revamped the University’s fiscal policies to allow for more aggressive outside investment in stocks. His method for long-range fiscal planning was later adopted by many other universites in the nation. Mr. Ecklund implemented many other innovative management and financial procedures, including a computer-based accounting system, total return investing, a securities loan program and multi-manager investment. In addition, he introduced several tuition payment options and loan plans for students and their families designed to assist them in financing a Yale education.

“John Ecklund devoted many caring years to the well-being of Yale University,” said long-time faculty member Henry W. Broude, the Philip G. Bartlett Professor of Economics and Economic History, who served as an adviser to several Yale presidents. “He was scrupulous as legal counsel and financial officer. Coupled with this was his warmth and good humor. It was a pleasure to be with him.”

Mr. Ecklund retired in 1978 after serving in the administrations of four Yale presidents: A. Whitney Griswold, Kingman Brewster, Hanna Gray and A. Bartlett Giamatti. Upon his retirement, his colleagues presented him with a certificate of appreciation which concluded: “You have never wavered from proposing what you felt right, and your integrity in support of Yale’s financial practices has been absolute. For the improvement you have brought Yale, the University is the better. For having been privileged to work with you, we are the better.”

After leaving Yale, Mr. Ecklund pursued scholarly study and writing in the field of history, recently finishing a multi-volume book titled “Philosophy and Law-Making: Legal Science from Athens to the Code Napoleon.”

During World War II, Mr. Ecklund served in Washington, D.C. on the general counsel’s staff of the Board of Economic Warfare. In 1942, he was called to active duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Beginning as an instructor at the Midshipman School in New York City and later at the West Coast Sound School in San Diego, Mr. Ecklund requested combat duty in the Atlantic and was assigned to the destroyer escort “USS Ahrens.” At the torpedo sinking of the “USS Block Island,” he received the Commendation Medal for his role in the successful search and destruction of the responsible German submarine. Mr. Ecklund was released from the Navy in 1946 as a lieutenant, and immediately resumed his career with Wiggin & Dana.

Outside the office, Mr. Ecklund often joined his mentor, Fred Wiggin, in string quartets. After Mr. Wiggin’s death, Mr. Ecklund enjoyed playing the Wiggin violin that had been bequeathed to him.

An avid outdoorsman and sailor, and an accomplished woodworker and cabinet maker, Mr. Ecklund cleared his own land and built his own house, an effort featured in “Quality Budget Houses.” He later designed and made many alterations and additions to the house.

Born in Jamestown, New York, into a family of Swedish immigrants, this only son of J. Edwin and Sigrid Johnson Ecklund was the first in his family to attend secondary school. Although historically Mr. Ecklund was Jamestown High School’s top academic graduate, he always averred he could never compete with the school’s star, Lucille Ball. As a Yale undergraduate, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and served as president of the Yale Political Union. At graduation, he was awarded the Alpheus Henry Snow Prize, given annually to the member of the senior class judged to have “done the most for Yale” by inspiring a love of scholarship in his classmates.

At the Law School, Mr. Ecklund was named the case editor of the Yale Law Journal. He graduated cum laude.

Mr. Ecklund was a member of the American Bar Association, the Connecticut Bar Association and the New Haven County Bar Association. His other professional memberships included the National Association of College and University Attorneys and the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Ecklund was a former director of Yale-New Haven Hospital and former chair and member of the Woodbridge Town Planning and Zoning Commission. He had lived in Woodbridge since 1951.

Mr. Ecklund is survived by his wife, Constance Cryer Ecklund (Yale ‘65 Ph.D.); two daughters, Hilda Ollmann of Round Rock, Texas, and Elizabeth Berger of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; two sons, Peter Ecklund of New York and John Ecklund, Jr. of Olympia, Washington; and four grandchildren, Ian Ollmann, Erica Ollmann Saphire, Bryan Berger and Benjamin Berger. He was predeceased by his first wife, Mary Sizer Ecklund, who died in 1973, and his sister, Jane Marie Ecklund of Jamestown, New York, who died in 1999.

The funeral and burial will be private. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on June 3 in Battell Chapel. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the National World War II Memorial, P.O. Box 96766, Washington, D.C. 20090-6766 or to the American Cancer Society, Southern New England Region, Meriden Executive Park, 538 Preston Ave., Meriden, CT.

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