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Originally published Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 8:25 PM

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Robert Leventhal, CEO and UW business dean

Robert Leventhal, former CEO of Western Union and a dean of the University of Washington's School of Business Administration, died last Monday in Seattle.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Robert Leventhal, a former CEO of Western Union and dean of the University of Washington's School of Business Administration, died last Monday in Seattle.

He was 85 and had been diagnosed less than a month earlier with bile-duct cancer.

Mr. Leventhal, who ran the business school from 1989 to 1994, was its first dean with a background in business rather than academia, said Jim Jiambalvo, current dean of what is now called the Michael G. Foster School of Business.

"He was a bit ahead of his time," Jiambalvo said.

Mr. Leventhal forged relationships with the business community, emphasized teaching quality and focused on ethics in ways that other business schools at the time did not. During his tenure, the business school started an ethics class that remains among the few ethics courses at major business schools, Jiambalvo said.

He also started an annual celebration to recognize outstanding business leaders in the Seattle community or related to the UW.

Mr. Leventhal was born in Cambridge, Mass., and graduated from Harvard College and the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

His roommate and fellow editor at the Harvard Crimson was Michael Stein, co-founder of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Stein took flying lessons with Mr. Leventhal and remembers his friend enjoyed the part of the training where they had to make the airplane stall and go into a tailspin before pulling out.

"Bob was a guy who wanted to try things and do things, and the whole rest of his career is a testament to that," Stein said.

In Vietnam, he said, Mr. Leventhal, who served in the Navy, requested duty on destroyers, which "bounced like a cork on the ocean, but he wanted to get into the battle."

Retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Thomas Weschler was commander of Naval Support Activity at Da Nang Naval Base in the mid-'60s, when Mr. Leventhal was in charge of the base's supply corps.

"He was really the watchdog over moving thousands of tons of cargo through Da Nang, and cargo was what we were there for," Weschler said. "He had a rare and wonderful personality. He handled it so well, and still in the evening could relax and not be all uptight as a tick."

Mr. Leventhal was twice awarded the Legion of Merit for duty in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

Before becoming CEO of Western Union in 1984, he worked for and ran other companies. He was particularly proud of his work in the 1970s at Engelhard Industries, an early manufacturer of catalytic converters.

William Ruckelshaus, the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, remembers hearings at which the automobile industry argued it needed more time to reduce pollutants caused by car engines. The industry was not convincing, but Engelhard Industries was, and catalytic converters became the standard for cutting emissions.

"They worked and had tremendous health benefits," said Ruckelshaus, who remembers meeting Mr. Leventhal, an executive vice president at Engelhard.

When they both subsequently moved to Seattle and saw each other around town, Ruckelshaus would call to Mr. Leventhal, "Hello, Mr. Clean Air!"

Jean Baur Viereck, Mr. Leventhal's wife of more than 18 years, met him when they both sat on the board of the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

"He was cerebral and bright and kind and generous and easy to be with," she said.

Mr. Leventhal also is survived by sons Jeffrey, of Los Angeles, and Daniel, of Medford, Mass.; niece Janet Horwitz (Murray) of Fairfax, Va.; and cousin Robert Gross (Cynthia) of West Hartford, Conn. His service was private.

Memorials are suggested to Swedish Cancer Institute, 747 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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