Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Distinguished economist Don Nichols dies

Donald Nichols

Donald Nichols, whose tenure leading the La Follette School of Public Affairs helped shape Wisconsin's economic development, died February 15 at age 72.

A professor emeritus of economics and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Nichols served as La Follette School director from 2002 to 2006.

Nichols served on the staff of the Council of Economic Advisers to the U.S. president in 1963 and joined the UW–Madison faculty in 1966. In 1975 and 1976 he served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. In the late 1970s, he was deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Nichols loved economics as a discipline and economic policy as a practice. While in Washington, he developed the skill of economic forecasting, something he practiced in many venues. He had begun his career as an economic theorist, but he was drawn to practical problems of economic policy.

In the 1980s, Nichols was an economic adviser to Wisconsin Governor Tony Earl, and he later served on Governor Jim Doyle's Economic Advisory Council. On campus, he was director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy from 1991 until his retirement in 2006 and director of the Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy from 1994 to 2003. He was a popular teacher and earned several teaching awards. He published numerous professional articles and books.

Nichols remained active in his profession after retirement, serving until his death on the Academic Advisory Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Nichols was on the original board of Thompson Plumb Funds starting in 1987, and he served as chairman of the board after the financial firm was reconfigured. He was widely called upon for advice and to speak at public functions. He was a fellow in the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

He is survived by his wife of 11 years, Jane Bartels; by his son, Charles of Madison, Wisconsin; his daughter, Elizabeth of St. Paul, Minn.; his granddaughter, Clare of St. Paul, Minnesota; his brothers, Kenneth and Paul, both of Middletown, Connecticut; and his sister, Marcia Stone of Madison, Connecticut. He was preceded in death by two wives, each dying of cancer. He was married to Linda Powley for 20 years and to Barbara Jakubowski for 17 years.

He was happiest in nature in all seasons and in contemplating difficult economic policy problems. Most of all, he loved to laugh with his wife.

A memorial service will be held at a later date in Wisconsin.

A variation of this article appears in the spring 2013 La Follette Notes newsletter for alumni and friends.

UW-Madison economist Donald Nichols lived the Wisconsin Idea, February 20, 2013, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Distinguished economist, professor Don Nichols dies, February 18, 2013, Wisconsin State Journal

Donald Nichols, February 17, 2013, Cress Funeral Home