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Sep. 7, 2011
It is with deep sadness we announce the death of William Breit, the former E.M. Stevens Distinguished Professor of Economics at Trinity. Breit died in San Antonio on Thursday, Aug. 25. He was 78.
A great scholar and teacher, Breit was personally responsible for bringing the world's leading economists to Trinity to participate in the University's Nobel Economists Lecture Series. He will also be remembered for combining his love of economics with his passion for mysteries in a series of whodunits in which the hero used the principals of economics to solve crimes.
Born in New Orleans, La. in 1933, Breit grew up in San Antonio. He attended the University of Texas at Austin where he received his bachelor's degree in 1955 and a master's in 1956. He received his doctorate from Michigan State University in 1961.
After teaching for 18 years at the University of Virginia, Breit came to Trinity in 1983, when he was named the Stevens Professor of Economics.
At Trinity, Breit taught courses on the Economics of Antitrust, Principles of Microeconomics, and Contemporary Economic Thinkers. He also created the Nobel Economists Lecture Series at the University and invited leading economists to lecture at Trinity. With Professor Roger Spencer, Breit collected and edited the lecture presentations, which were published as Lives of the Laureates: Thirteen Nobel Economists.
In addition Breit helped recruit other renowned economists such as Walter Adams, Paul Samuelson, and Richard Leftwich to teach at the University as Taylor Visiting Distinguished Professors.
Breit also loved murder mysteries and taught a first-year seminar titled Detective Fiction as a Mirror to Society.
It was while on vacation in the Virgin Islands in the mid-70s that Breit decided to go from being just a reader of murder mysteries to a writer of the genre. Working with fellow economist at the University of Virginia and friend, Kenneth G. Elzinga, Breit created Henry Spearman, a Harvard University economics professor and amateur sleuth. Writing under the pen name Marshall Jevons (the combined names of two 19th century economic theorists), Breit and Elzinga produced a series of books, Murder at the Margin, The Fatal Equilibrium, and A Deadly Indifference, which featured Spearman (loosely modeled on Nobel economist Milton Friedman) using economic theories to solve murders. The books and the authors were celebrated in both The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Wall Street Journal, and Breit became a member of the Mystery Writers of America.
Breit also wrote numerous academic publications, including Science and Ceremony (1976), The Antitrust Penalties: A study in Law and Economics (1976), Readings in Microeconomics (3rd edition, 1986), and The Antitrust Casebook (3rd edition, 1996).
He was on the Board of Editors of several publications including Journal of Economic Issues, Research in the History of Economics, and Social Science Journal. And he was a past president of the Southern Economic Association.
He retired from the University in 2002.
He is survived by his brother, Alvin Breit, and a niece, Sondra Karlebach. A graveside service was held on Friday, Aug. 26, at Agudas Achim Memorial Gardens in San Antonio.