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Richard "Dick" Erb’s life spanned an arc from a 20-acre vegetable farm in New York to a 240-acre hay farm in Montana, with a long and accomplished career in international economic and financial affairs in between. Born April 15, 1942, in Wantagh on Long Island, Dick died peacefully at home in Moiese on May 24, 2023, with a view of the mountains and his wife, Joanna, at his side. Death was from complications of pancreatic cancer.
Dick gained his tremendous work ethic from working on his father’s farm located just one hour from New York City. In his early teens, Dick launched his own landscaping business and also had a successful newspaper delivery route, earning turkeys for the family on Thanksgiving and a sturdy bike which sits today in his Quonset hut on the farm in Moiese.
A serious student, Dick was awarded a New York State Regents scholarship to the University of Buffalo, where he initially enrolled as a pre-med student. A course in economics – a subject he had never heard of – changed his life. He changed his major to economics and never looked back. Dick made lifelong friends in speech and debate club, and he served as UB’s student body treasurer and then as its president. While president, he and the student council invited a controversial speaker to campus, which sparked an outcry in in the NY State Assembly. Although forced to delay the event, Dick and his fellow council members stuck to their guns and ultimately hosted the speaker on campus.
Dick continued his studies in economics at Stanford University, with several scholarships covering his full tuition and costs. He earned a Ph.D. in economics in 1967 and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society.
Dick began his career with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, D.C., where he served as assistant to Governor Sherman Maisel for two years. But the lure of New York City drew him closer to his roots. He began his work in the city with the consulting firm Arthur D. Little and then with Henry Kaufman in Salomon Brothers’ bond market research department.
Although Dick loved New York City and the world of finance, when a friend invited him to join the White House staff, Dick jumped at the chance. He served for three years as Staff Assistant to the President and Assistant Director of the Council on International Economic Policy.
Dick’s White House days were followed by a Council on Foreign Relations international affairs fellowship; appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury; consulting work with the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency; public policy research at the American Enterprise Institute; and head of President-elect Ronald Reagan’s transition team for the U.S. Treasury, where he served as acting assistant secretary for international affairs. Dick also co-taught a course at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, where he met his future wife, Joanna Shelton.
The longest stretch of Dick’s career was spent at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., first as U.S. Executive Director (representing the United States) and then for ten years as Deputy Managing Director (the number two official). Among his many high-level negotiations were his work with member countries and banking groups to resolve debt crises in Latin America and, following collapse of the Soviet Union, with newly emerging countries to speed their financial assistance and IMF membership. He also managed IMF internal operations and its budget and personnel matters. When he left, he was replaced by three deputies.
As Dick was leaving the IMF, his wife was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve as Deputy Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France. Although Dick was negotiating an attractive job in New York City’s financial industry, he turned it down to follow Joanna to Paris, earning her undying gratitude. While there, Dick began a consulting business advising young financial companies in Central Europe seeking private equity finance.
After four years in Paris, Dick and Joanna surprised their friends and colleagues by purchasing a farm in Montana’s Rocky Mountain West, joining Dick’s brother, Bob, and his family in the region. Dick’s early landscaping business helped him transition to his new occupation of raising hundreds of tons annually of high-quality grass and alfalfa hay for horses, cattle, and bison (for the nearby Bison Range). He quickly earned a reputation of raising the best hay around.
Dick taught courses at the University of Montana for the economics department and School of Business Administration. He also threw himself into community work in the Mission Valley, serving as an elected commissioner on the board of the Flathead Irrigation District; as a firefighter, EMS first responder, and President of the Charlo/Moiese Volunteer Fire Department; and actively participating in the tribal, state and federal government water rights compact negotiations.
Dick’s most recent community service was as vice chair of the Mission Valley Power board, the area’s tribally managed electric power company. He dedicated himself to that work until one week before he died.
Despite his many professional accomplishments, Dick was humble at heart. A former IMF colleague wrote that “to be competent and decent at the same time is difficult, and Dick was both and beyond.” Another noted that “even when we disagreed, our interactions were pleasant, in no small measure due to his reasonable, equanimous, and friendly personality.” A UM colleague wrote that “I didn’t expect such a brilliant, successful person to be so lovely and self-effacing.”
Dick is survived by his loving wife and best friend of 46 years, Joanna Shelton; brother George (Dianne) Erb of the family homestead in Wantagh; sister-in-law Marilyn (Robert) Erb of Helena; brother-in-law John (Wendy) Shelton of Salisbury, MD; seven nephews and one niece; and many great-nephews and great-nieces. No services are planned, but a celebration of life will be held during the summer.
Contributions in Dick’s honor may be made to Salish Kootenai College, PO Box 70, Pablo, MT 59855 (www.skc.edu) or the Mission Valley Animal Shelter, PO Box 1644, Polson, MT 59860 (www.missionvalleyanimalshelter.org).
Many thanks to Partners in Home Care hospice of Missoula and Lake County for their compassionate care and support.
THE FAMILY REQUESTS NO FLOWERS PLEASE!
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