Leon Louis Francois Wegge, 89, of Davis, California, passed away peacefully on February 4th, 2023, after a multi-year battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma (Waldenström’s disease). He was surrounded by his loving family when he passed.
Leon was born in 1933 in Breendonk, Belgium. After attending primary school, junior high and high school in Breendonk and nearby communities, he spent two years at a junior college in Antwerp before transferring in 1953 to the Catholic University of Leuven, graduating in 1958 with several degrees, including one in economics. After military service in the French section of the Belgian army, he spent six months working on economic models at the Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis in the Netherlands. In 1959, a Fulbright scholarship provided for the boat trip across the Atlantic Ocean to the U.S., where he went on to study economics at M.I.T. with Professor Robert Solow. In 1962 Leon met Beate, and they married that same year. Leon graduated with a Ph.D. in economics in 1963.
Leon’s first academic position was at the University of New South Wales in Australia. In 1966 he was recruited by the Department of Economics of UC Davis to develop their new graduate program. What followed were some of his most prolific years, during which he published many academic papers, taught graduate courses in econometrics, international economics and trade theory, and served on various faculty committees on the UC Davis campus. In their early years in Davis, Leon and Beate regularly hosted Thanksgiving meals at their home with foreign graduate students or visiting professors as guests. He spent sabbatical years in Leuven (Belgium), Bonn (Germany), and Wassenaar (Netherlands), which allowed him to focus on research and expose his children to different European cultures as well as help them strengthen bonds with extended family.
Leon very much enjoyed traveling to other countries for professional conferences. Perhaps the most memorable trip was Leon and Beate’s visit to Taiwan in the year 2000. At the invitation of Paul T. Mu (the founding president of National Dong Hwa University, Hua-Lian, and a former Ph.D. student of Leon’s at UC Davis), Leon presented his research to the Economics Department at National Dong Hwa University as well as at the Economics Research Institute of Academia Sinica, the highest academic research institution in Taiwan.
Leon retired from UC Davis in 1994 and remained very active with his research and interests. He presented his last conference paper in 2019 in Singapore. Until a few years ago Leon was a regular fixture on the UC Davis tennis courts. Twice he completed the Dodentocht walk (“March of the Dead”) in Bornem, Belgium, the longest walking race in Europe, which requires participants to walk 100 km within 24 hours. He enjoyed harvesting his organic almonds, listening to the music of van Beethoven and Handel and getting together with friends in a local gourmet club. He was a devout member of the Saint James Catholic Parish for nearly 60 years. He was an enthusiastic bridge player until the end. He was also an avid sports fan of all kinds of sports, but especially of grand slam tennis tournaments and the exploits of Belgian athletes.
Leon had a keen sense of familial history, and long before genealogy became popular, he engaged in rigorous research of the Wegge family tree as well as other family surnames that culminated in a small book on his findings, written in both English and Flemish.
He was a one-of-a-kind individual and will be greatly missed. Leon was predeceased by his parents Petrus and Alberta, his sister Rosa, and his brother Frans. He is survived by his wife Beate, his brother Jos Wegge, his children Simone (Victor Valdivia), Robert, and Elizabeth (Jason Bennett), his four grandchildren, Jane, Leo, Jacqueline and Victor, his godson Dr. Leon Andries and many nieces and nephews. A celebration of his life was held in his hometown of Breendonk, Belgium on April 2nd. A Memorial Mass will be held on June 9th at St. James Church in Davis, California, with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the International Waldenström’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation (https://iwmf.com/ways-to-give/), or to a local charity like Yolo Cares (Yolo Hospice), https://yolocares.org/.