Richard Blankfeld, Long-Time Nathan Economist, Dies News Feed

Richard Blankfeld, who joined Nathan Associates in 1978 and played an integral role in the firm’s evolution, has died after struggling for more than two years with cancer.

Richard Blankfeld in Stonetown, Zanzibar in February 2011
Richard Blankfeld in
Stonetown, Zanzibar, in February 2011

“Richard was a diligent economist, known for his practicality in economic reasoning as well as great sense of humor,” said Lakhbir Singh, Nathan Associates' chief executive officer. “Richard and his collegial spirit will be sorely missed.”

His courage and determination in the face of a rare form of nonsmoker’s lung cancer inspired all his colleagues. He succumbed on August 4, at his home and with his children at his side. He was 58.

Though diagnosed with an advanced stage of the disease in December 2011, Richard worked until this spring. Even while away, he remained in touch with his coworkers, discussing technical issues and his treatment. His willingness to share the medical details bore witness to his bravery and matter-of-factness.

Richard joined Nathan as a research associate shortly after receiving his master’s in economics from Boston University. At the time, the firm was in a management transition and seeking new clients, relying less on federal agencies and foundations. Richard worked with senior economists on projects that laid the foundation for the firm’s work in litigation and infrastructure economics. He became a vice president in 1996.

He was thorough and precise in his work. Colleagues found the intensity of his work style hard to match but enjoyed its rewards when interacting with clients and stakeholders, because Richard had an answer ready for any question raised. He was unmatched as a mentor to younger colleagues.

Colleagues also appreciated how Richard contributed his expertise to the internal working committees that made the firm run, thankless tasks that he nonetheless gave his best to. His enthusiasm for the firm and its people was clear from the beginning of his time at Nathan.

“I liked applied economics, and Nathan was really known for that,” he was quoted in the 2013 biography of Robert R. Nathan, founder of Nathan Associates, explaining the decision to join the firm. “I knew I would be doing a whole range of different types of things, and that really appealed to me.”

The range was indeed wide. His work took him to at least two dozen countries, among them Albania, Bangladesh, Colombia, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, and Panama. Clients included Australia’s aid agency, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Panama Canal Authority, United Nations, U.S. Agency for International Development, and World Bank.

His recent projects included due diligence review for a high-speed rail in Brazil; a U.S. government study of proposed regulations on U.S. shipping to protect right whales; a study on expanding the Panama Canal; a freight corridor diagnostics study for East Africa; and preparation of Indonesia’s national port master plan.

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