Remembering Bill Schaffer and His 35-Year Legacy

Posted March 21, 2024

The Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts is saddened to share the passing of William “Bill” Schaffer, a decades-long member of Georgia Tech's School of Economics. Schaffer “lived and breathed” the School of Economics, said his son, Teddy Schaffer. “It was the central part of his life for so long.”  

After earning a B.S. in Industrial Management from Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. in Economics from Duke University, Schaffer returned to join the Georgia Tech faculty in 1966. He was an expert in regional economics, publishing two books and more than 50 papers, research reports, and monographs throughout his career. However, Schaffer’s time at Georgia Tech was defined by his dedication to his students.  

“Students at Georgia Tech were fortunate to have him as a professor — they were more important to him than any research project he might have been doing,” said Jim Coffin, MS ECON 1985. Coffin was a student in Schaffer’s class in 1983 and emphasized how important Shaffer’s guidance was to his success at Georgia Tech.  

“After graduation, our student/professor relationship evolved into a 39-year-long friendship. My wife Libby and I were fortunate to have Dr. Schaffer and his wife, Lee, as friends,” he said.  

Patrick McCarthy, a professor emeritus in the School of Economics, estimates Schaffer taught over 11,000 students across more than 200 classes and guided three dozen through their M.S. and Ph.D. theses during his 35 years at Georgia Tech. 

“I have very fond memories of him. He was a real Southern gentleman,” McCarthy said. “He possessed an infectious smile, a kind demeanor, and a melodious chuckle. He always erred on the side of students, helping them as much as possible. It's no wonder that he captured the hearts and minds of so many of them.” 

Haizheng Li, now a professor in the School of Economics, was hired by Schaffer 26 years ago. "As a new assistant professor facing numerous challenges and considerable stress in my early years, I found Bill's advice, care, and friendship incredibly valuable," he said.

"Bill's passion for students was something beyond what words can describe. His deep care was so powerful whenever he spoke about them," Li added. "Equally impressive was his love for Georgia Tech. I recall a conversation with Bill about the annual campaign drive at the institute. He mentioned that he had accidentally entered his annual contribution as a monthly amount. When I pointed out that this was ten times the intended amount and asked if he planned to correct it, he replied, 'No, it's good to help.'"

Schaffer's commitment to Georgia Tech extended to extracurricular involvement. Alongside his late wife, Lee Schaffer, Bill was an ardent supporter of Georgia Tech baseball. The two took on the role of "team parents" and traveled to away games to support the student-athletes however they could. Schaffer was also the faculty advisor for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity for 20 years.

When he retired in 2001, the Board of Advisors for the School of Economics established the Bill Schaffer Scholarship fund to honor Schaffer and his passion for helping undergraduate students. Schaffer also personally gave back to Tech, establishing the ODE Endowment, which supports the GT Economics Honor Society and their activities. 

"Bill Schaffer leaves a lasting legacy at the School through the scholarship fund named in his honor, the ODE endowment, and countless students and faculty whose lives he touched,” said Laura Taylor, a professor and chair of the School of Economics. "I think we'd be hard-pressed to find a faculty member with a longer or deeper affiliation with Georgia Tech." 

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