Larry Alexander ’72, a Massachusetts state representative who dedicated his political career to improving public service, passed away due to complications relating to a blood disorder in Boston on Nov. 6. He was 62.
Alexander graduated from Yale with an honors degree in political science and led a distinguished career in law and politics, serving in Massachusetts state politics for over a decade before returning to Yale as a lecturer in 2008 to lead a college seminar entitled “Ethical Dilemmas of Legislators.” As a representative, he is credited with pushing forward several measures, including one that prohibited politicians from retaining unused campaign funds for personal purposes. His students and those close to him remember him as a passionate teacher who encouraged students to tackle ethical issues with nuanced perspectives.
“What always stood out about Professor Alexander was how much he cared about his students,” Seth Kolker ’15 said in an email. “He brought snacks to every class, made a point to invite every student to lunch to get to know us outside of seminars and never failed to give thoughtful and prompt responses to every question … no matter how silly or minute.”
Though Alexander’s professional experience only resided in legal and political fields, Mary Alice, his wife, said he always had a dream to teach. Alexander loved leading debates among his students, she said, especially when the issue revolved around legislative decisions in which he had been involved.
Alexander opened each class with an ethical dilemma or politically controversial issue and asked students to take a position. Mary Alice said his objective with these exercises was to “get people to squirm in their seats” and eventually come to the understanding that there are no definitive black-and-white positions on complex issues.
“He loved getting people to think and have a lively debate,” she said. “For him, it was never about getting the right answer out of the students, because there was no single right answer. It was about getting them to think it through.”
Eric Stern ’15, a student in Alexander’s fall 2011 class, described Alexander as an exceptional example of what a teacher and legislator should be. Stern added that Alexander always engaged his students and “livened class with with stories from his time in elected office.”
Michael Young ’14 said Alexander was “candid and frank” about his political career and wished to help the next generation by showing his students an “honest portrayal” of how to accomplish change through public service.
Kolker called it an “extremely sad day” when the students were notified of Alexander’s illness, several weeks before the end of last fall semester, adding that the class sent flowers, cards and chocolate cigars to Alexander’s hospital room.
“He was a kind, genuine person — he was brilliant, insightful, caring,” Mary Alice said. “He was very much a modest individual, [with] not a trace of arrogance. Just genuine. He saw the world with the glass half-full, saw the best in people and wanted to bring out the best in people.”
As an undergraduate, Alexander studied writing under journalist John Hersey. He was also the deputy opinion editor of the News.
Alexander is survived by his wife, his daughter, Katie, and his son, David, who graduated from Yale in 2008.
Correction: Dec. 4
A previous version of this article misstated the name of Alexander’s daughter.