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Leif Mutén: Letter by Margareta Eklöf

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Leif Mutén was born September 16, 1928. The family lived in a Stockholm suburb and after elementary school he continued at a school in the city. Strangely enough we used to vote in his former class room many decades afterwards. In 1941 his father was appointed to a position further north, in Härnösand, where he worked as a tax expert. It is no coincidence that Leif’s academic field was tax law – he had more or less grown up with it.

He had not enjoyed school in Stockholm but loved every minute of it in Härnösand, with excellent teachers and a cathedral where he joined the boys’ choir. He graduated in 1946, at 18, with top marks. He had made friends for life, and many continued like himself to Uppsala University after graduating. His first degree was in economics, political science and statistics, which he passed in two years. At 20 he was called up to do his military service in the Artillery, but dropped his gun after a bout of rheumatic fever and finished his service at a desk at a military office in Stockholm. He said himself that he mainly emptied waste-paper baskets and so had plenty of time to begin his studies in law. In about a year he was through with half of the subjects in a Bachelor of Law degree at the Stockholm University and returned to Uppsala where he finished in two years – most people spend five years on a BL. His professor encouraged him to begin working on a doctoral thesis, and although he was teaching and working with tax cases at the local court he presented his thesis in 1959. Two years later his professor retired and Leif succeeded him, at 33 years of age.

In 1968 Leif was offered a trial period of a year at the Tax Department of the International Monetary Fund. He found the work there so interesting, with its international orientation and many opportunities to apply his theoretical expertise in the then newly independent countries, especially in Africa, that he accepted a permanent position from 1969. He left his chair and settled with the family of three children just outside Washington DC. In 1991 he was offered a chair in international tax law at the Stockholm School of Economics and taught there until he retired in 1997. At that time the SSE Riga had no rector so Leif was asked to fill the vacancy from September to December, then to stay on for the rest of the academic year. In June 1998 he was again asked to stay on, this time for a whole year, and he accepted with enthusiasm. He enjoyed his time in Riga more than any other period of his career.

With his open mind, social talent, happy disposition and commitment to young people he became very popular among staff and students. He had strict moral principles and did not tolerate cheating in any form. The father of a would-be student at the School tried to bribe him with a substantial donation to the School if the student was admitted despite having failed the admission tests, but Leif was adamant in his refusal, to the man’s great surprise. A student who had been rude to a cleaner got a severe reprimand and had to apologize in front of the discipline committee – a lesson he is not likely to forget.

Leif loved music and had a splendid second bass voice, trained in two famous Uppsala choirs. He joined the SSE Riga choir. It must have made an unforgettable impression when he began his welcoming speech in September 1997 by singing Noel Cowards well-known song “Let’s fall in love” with the line “Lithuanians and Letts do it”. I don’t suppose anybody had ever heard anything like it from a man in his position and approaching 70.

We had a wonderful time in Riga, going very often to the Opera with its great singers and imaginative productions, and we were back for short visits many times, noticing how the city and its inhabitants prospered continuously. It was a special joy for Leif to know that the graduates from SSE Riga make good use of their education and are successful.

Leif Mutén died peacefully on June 8, 2016 and is buried in the Old Cemetery in Uppsala.

Margareta Eklöf, Leif’s companion for 20 years

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