Mahlon Straszheim

Mahlon Reid Straszheim was a former University of Maryland economics department chair.

Mahlon Reid Straszheim, a former University of Maryland economics department chair and campus leader who wrote on urban economics and housing discrimination, died of May 17 at his Potomac home of complications from a stroke. He was 75.

Dr. Straszheim came to College Park in 1971. He served as the economics department's chairman for 17 years. Before his 2012 retirement, he was associate provost of the university and created a program to attract top students. He was also recognized for his work in urban economics and the economics of the airline industry.


"The department made enormous strides during Mahlon's tenure as chair. He hired many of the faculty who now form the core of the department. Mahlon's efforts were instrumental in the department's increased visibility and stature," said John Wallis, a professor of economics who lives in University Park.

In 2008 when Dr. Straszheim was named associate provost, he played a role in campus initiatives, his colleagues said. He helped create the school's Honors College, a program for the academically gifted. He also oversaw the College Park Scholars program, the Global Communities program, the global studies minor and a minor in sustainability studies.


"He truly devoted himself to the economics department," said Dr. Wallis. "He had a real flair for organizing things. He promoted the interests of his department and had a good vision of the university as a whole."

Wallace Oates, a colleague, called Dr. Straszheim "quiet, serious, hardworking and effective. He guided our department through a difficult period and helped maintain us as a nationally ranked economics department."

Born in West Lafayette, Ind., Dr. Straszheim was the son of Robert Straszheim, an agricultural statistician, and Clara Shepherd, a homemaker. He earned a bachelor's degree from Purdue University and a doctorate from Harvard University.

"He was devoted to his family. He was a hard worker who enjoyed his work and took pride in it," said sister-in-law Beth Sherfy of Chevy Chase. "He was always busy but had time for everyone."

Nearly a decade ago, Dr. Straszheim served on a committee to evaluate which academic programs were strong and which were weak. The committee's recommendations resulted in greater funding for the more stronger programs.

Nariman Farvardin, a former provost who is now president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, recalled spending hours with Dr. Straszheim as they guided the university.

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"These were all very complex issues on which making progress would have been impossible if it were not for Mahlon's brilliant mind, diligent work, unlimited patience in dealing with different constituencies, and pages and pages of supporting data that he prepared," Dr. Farvardin said. "In dealing with these issues, Mahlon continued to be a voice of reason, never complained, and never lost sight of the fact that he is doing these to make the university a better place. His focus in life was one thing only: excellence in all he did."

Ann Wylie, a former provost who lives in Olney, said, "Mahlon was a trusted adviser to President [C.D.] Mote, who relied on his remarkable understanding of the economy of the state to help us predict state funding. ... He was a humble, talented and wise man."


Colleagues said Dr. Straszheim also developed a quarterly economic model of the state. He estimated state income, employment and earnings in major industries. From 1992 through 2007, he presented his quarterly forecasts to the state treasurer and comptroller. From 1997 through 2007, he also wrote an annual economic report card for Montgomery County. Then-County Executive Douglas M. Duncan named May 15, 2005, Mahlon R. Straszheim Day in recognition of his many contributions to the county.

A dedicated gardener, Dr. Straszheim raised vegetables and berries and collected wine. He also enjoyed landscaping his property. He also played golf and was a devoted Terps follower.

A memorial service will be held at noon Thursday at Potomac Presbyterian Church, 10301 River Road in Potomac.

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, the former Janelle Sherfy, an attorney and senior vice president of the trust division of Sandy Spring Bank; two sons, Gordon Straszheim of Topanga, Calif., and David Straszheim of New Brunswick, N.J.; three daughters, Deborah Straszheim of Niantic, Conn., Sarah Olson of Buffalo, N.Y., and Rebecca Preston of Potomac; two brothers, Donald Straszheim of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Robert Straszheim of Ames, Iowa; two sisters, Karen Webster of Marietta, Ga., and Joanne Widiger of Parma, Ohio; and five grandchildren.