In Memoriam: Leo Ribuffo

Leo Ribuffo
Leo Ribuffo
December 12, 2018

It is with sadness that we share the news of the passing of Leo Ribuffo, a beloved professor of history in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

“Leo Ribuffo was an exceptional scholar of 20th century U.S. history and American intellectual history, a respected colleague and, for many of us at Columbian College, a dear friend,” said Paul Wahlbeck, Columbian College interim dean. “His tenure at GW spanned more than four decades during which time he wrote award-winning books and was an active and engaged mentor to his students. He will be greatly missed by those whose lives he touched."

Ribuffo died unexpectedly on November 25, following his return from an intellectual history conference in Chicago that featured a special session on his contributions to the field. He joined GW’s Department of History in 1973 after teaching stints at Bucknell and Yale University, from which he graduated with a PhD in American studies. He went on to write numerous essays and three books: Change and Continuity: The Presidency in Historical Perspective; Right Center Left; and The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. At the time of this death, he was completing a book manuscript entitled The Limits of Moderation: Jimmy Carter and the Ironies of American Liberalism.

“[Leo] had a lightning quick mind capable of making connections that illuminated American history in perceptive and highly original ways,” wrote his colleague Ed Berkowitz, a GW professor of history and public policy and public administration. “He made his mark as a mentor to generations of graduate students, [and] his graduate seminars captivated his students, many of whom chose Leo to direct their dissertations. . . . His death greatly diminishes the GW Department of History and the history profession more generally.”

Berkowitz noted Ribuffo’s “generous laugh” that let people know he appreciated what they said. “Leo was good company, who enjoyed fine cigars from Cuba and the best sort of comfort food but who delighted most in conversations with his colleagues and friends.”

One of Ribuffo’s former students, Christopher Preble, noted on Facebook that there were “few people who had a bigger impact on my professional career. [He was] an outstanding teacher and mentor.” Andrew Hartman, a professor of history at Illinois State University commented that he was “the most important person in my intellectual life. He will be missed by so many people.”