Edgar Kendall Landis Obituary

Edgar Kendall Landis died on Thursday, September 13, 2018, in Wallingford, Pa., at the age of 93 from melanoma.

Kendall was born in Scarsdale, N.Y., on November 12, 1924, the only child of Ruth Carleton Kendall (1891-1978) and Edgar Bechtel Landis (1892-1950). He attended the Ethical Cultural Fieldston School in Riverdale, where his mother taught. For high school, he went to the Putney School in Vermont, where “a new world opened up.” He fell in love with the arts, history and the outdoors. He became a lifelong champion of progressive education and of Putney School, where the arts, crafts and classical education were joined. Sarah Gray Gund, a long-time chair of the Putney Board, wrote that Ken’s “knowledge of how to fundraise is legendary, and his successes were extraordinary. He built the development effort at Putney and certainly taught us all how to go about raising money.” Two of his three sons, Christopher and Ethan, went to Putney.

Kendall went to Swarthmore College, where he majored in history and French literature. His education was interrupted by WWII. He trained as a U.S. Naval officer and aviator for two years. His first mission — the invasion of Japan — was called off on VJ Day. He spent 1946-47 studying at the University of Geneva.

Following graduation from Swarthmore College in 1948, Kendall moved to Greenwich Village in New York to work at Citibank. He married Joan Hutton on Valentine’s Day in 1953, a beauty, poet and wonderful mother and wife. They promptly set sail for three years in Paris, where his fluent French served him well. In 1958 he took his family to Saudi Arabia to become the youngest manager ever appointed by Citibank. He helped open the Jeddah branch, the first of any American bank in Arabia. Many other branches followed across the Middle East. 

From 1962 to 1967, the Landis family lived in Beirut, the center of Middle East finance and cosmopolitan capital of Lebanon. He and Joan loved entertaining in their apartment overlooking the Mediterranean, where costume parties continued til dawn. He acted in theater productions and formed relationships with friends, such as the Dodges, Kerrs, Gordons, Stolzfuses, Mizes, Khouris, Porters and Lanes, who would remain close for the rest of their lives. Kendall also became attached to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, a cause he championed to his last. He helped raise several million dollars for a hospital in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. He worked for the Atfaluna school for the deaf in Gaza and the Palestinian National Conservatory of Music. He served for years on the board of American Near East Refugee Aid and helped bring Middle Eastern students to America. 

The family moved back to the States in 1967, when Kendall and Joan decided to return to academia, earning masters’ degrees from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. This swiftly evolved into development work at Wesleyan and Bennington College. He then spent 20 years at Swarthmore College as vice-president of fundraising, alumni and public relations, helping to make it one of the world’s richest schools. He devoted special attention to building up the arts and music as well as developing relations with the poorer communities around Swarthmore. He strengthened the Scott Arboretum, which has transformed the campus into a piece of art, and promoted Orchestra 2001. He threw wonderful parties for performers, board members, and speakers that added gaiety, elegance and joie de vivre to the campus’s Quaker sobriety.

After retiring Ken and Joan spent long summers at their mountain farmhouse in Vermont, where he cultivated an ever-expanding vegetable garden, helped promote local artists, and lingered with friends over cocktails bedecked with delicacies, such as smoked bluefish, kohlrabi and local Vermont cheeses. Kendall was a man of large appetites and boundless optimism. He saw the best in people and was ever on the lookout for how to help others and bring a small measure of justice to the world around him. He and Joan were a team; for 64 years, they worked together to bring laughter, beauty and wit to those they loved, in particular to their three children: Christopher, Joshua and Ethan; to their daughters-in-law: Tomi, Manar and Jude; and their six grandchildren: Jake, Kyle, Ryan, Stuart, Kendall and Jonah.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, November 24, at 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Friends Meeting House on Swarthmore College campus, 12 Whittier Place, Swarthmore, PA 19081.

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