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Colleagues Remember James Leck

ISSO associate director dies at 48


James Leck, the ISSO's associate director for student services, died Monday at the age of 48. Photo courtesy of Susan Griffin

James Leck, the associate director for student services in the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), died in his sleep on Monday, July 4, while vacationing in Maine. He was 48.

Recalling his vibrant personality and devotion to BU’s international students, colleagues say Leck’s death is an enormous loss to BU.

“There is a certain class of people who so embody a profession that the job they hold is no longer just a job, but a calling, an art form, a life’s work,” says Andrea Popa, ISSO assistant director for scholar services. “In the field of international education and international student advising, James Leck was just such a person. He was a giant, a rock star, a North Star, and a mentor.”

Leck, who came to BU eight years ago, was a popular fixture on campus, an invaluable resource for BU’s international community and a nationally recognized public speaker on cross-cultural communication and international education.

“He was a larger-than-life kind of figure, and he’s going to be sorely missed,” says ISSO director Jeanne Kelley.

As associate director for student services, one of Leck’s primary responsibilities was to train and mentor the office’s international student advisors, who work with more than 5,500 students from 139 different countries. His training sessions were extensive and fondly referred to around the office as “BU boot camp.”

Peter O’Meara, one of seven ISSO international student advisors, trained for two and a half months under Leck. “He was untiring in his efforts to make sure we understood what we were learning and were able to explain it cogently to clients,” O’Meara recalls.

Leck’s door was always open to advisors needing assistance on a tough case. “He was able to take masses of complicated and contradictory regulatory and immigration information and immediately hone in on the intent of the laws and the regulations and the effect that those would have on our students,” says O’Meara. “And he was also able to plow through all of that and effectively interpret it for the rest of us.”

And he did it with a sense of humor. Lynn Walters, another international student advisor, remembers Leck’s performance as Stamp Man, a spoof on U.S. customs officials, during an international student orientation. He was an expert at “making something that’s serious, and occasionally boring, really interesting,” Walters says.

Leck was also the University’s unofficial coach on all things related to international students and a strong advocate of study abroad programs. Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) recalls Leck coaching him on culturally sensitive situations involving international students, saying Leck didn’t hesitate to set him straight if he flubbed a touchy situation.

“He was not afraid to give a kick in the seat in the pants and a hug also,” Elmore says with a laugh.

Laurie Pohl, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, says Leck was committed to students and staff working abroad. “He was also very creative in his approach to transitioning students to campus and—where I interacted with him most—helped those of us who work with international students learn to serve them better,” she says.

Outside of BU, Leck was an adjunct professor in Lesley University’s Intercultural Relations program and a member of the national leadership of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which recognized him in 2007 with the Region XI Distinguished Service Award.

According to Kelley, it was not unusual for people at NAFSA conferences to search out Leck’s sessions. “Everyone would say, ‘Which one is James doing? We’re going to go to that one,’” she says. “He had quite a following.”

Leck earned a bachelor’s degree from Plymouth State University and a master’s degree in international administration from the School for International Training Graduate Institute. He began his career as an international educator working for AFS Intercultural Programs in New York. He later spent four years teaching and working with youth on leadership and race relations in South Africa and helped pioneer domestic exchanges between cultural groups during the era of apartheid.

Friends recall that Leck was a man who loved to sing, spend time in Maine, share treats at the office, and give a good hug in moments of loss. He leaves behind many who loved him, including his wife, Susan Griffin, a College of Arts & Sciences senior lecturer in Spanish and the language course coordinator for Spanish.

“The gift of his death is to remind us to live,” says ISSO international student advisor Sam Lynch.

A memorial service will be held at Marsh Chapel on Tuesday, July 12, at 3 p.m. All are welcome to attend. The Leck family asks that donations in his memory be made to Heifer International.

Visit the memorial website for James Leck here.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.


46 Comments on Colleagues Remember James Leck

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 1:16 am

    Colleagues Remember James Leck

    So many people: (friends, colleagues and both) loved Jim . He was an inspiration. I know of very few people who are as generous and compassionate and devoted and honest and smart and kind as he was My thoughts and prayers go out to his wonderful wife Sue Griffin as well as to all of his family members and to all of those who loved him dearly and who are devastated by this tremendous loss.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 8:52 am

    James Leck was indeed everything that people said in this article and even more. He did everything with such passion and with integrity too. He was dedicated to his vocation and to making it possible for so many people to live and work in this country. When it came to helping people both inside and outside of work, he would often go well above and beyond the call of duty. He was kind, gentle, intelligent, creative and he had a wonderful sense of humor. Thank you, Jim, for being such an inspiration.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 9:25 am

    James was an incredible resource to all of us at BU who work with international students. It was icing on the cake that his excellent work and spot-on advice was delivered with such style and humor. He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 11:12 am

    It is safe to say that Jim’s circle of friend extended well beyond Boston. During his earlier years at the University of Maine he and Sue made many friends in Maine and those friendships continued after their move to BU. Jim was a great raconteur with an infectious sense of humor and a transcendent perspective . His unexpected and all too early passing has left a void that won’t be filled.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 11:26 am

    James was a pleasure to work with. Dignified but thoroughly approachable, he was a great guy. Prayers for his family, friends, and co-workers.

  • Peter McCluskey on 07.07.2011 at 11:33 am

    James took exclusivity out of the field of international advising. More than once did he help those in the community colleges in New England feel as if they belonged and enabled them so that they in turn could assist their students. Yeats wrote:

    Cast a cold eye
    Upon life,
    Upon death,
    Horseman pass by.

    The Horseman came too soon. James will be missed.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 11:44 am

    first impression from an international student

    i met him on my international student orientation day, he was so generous and funny to give us a vivid “class” of life in BU and in USA, and during the reception time for international student in BU PHOTONICS building, i had a picture with him and he is such a lovely person but sorely missed, my prayers go to his family and his death is a tremendous loss to BU international community

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 11:45 am

    International student's word for James Leck

    Meeting with Mr. James Leck at the ISSO has always made my day. He advised me with high respect and dignity. His compassionate and gentle heart will be remembered.
    May you rest in peace, James, and may his beloved family find comfort, strength and courage to face each new day.

  • Melanie on 07.07.2011 at 11:48 am


    James was a pleasure to work with and he will be missed by his colleagues. My condolences to his family.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 12:12 pm

    Sad day for International Education, what will we do without him?

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 12:14 pm

    Jim is a great guy. I still remember his extremely helpful talk with great humor on the ISSO orientation, which make every international student feel warm. He helped me a lot during my first days at the US. I will miss him. RIP.

  • Missy Gluckmann on 07.07.2011 at 12:30 pm

    He broke the mold.

    James was all that you say above and more. He lived life, LIVED it indeed, and his passing serves as a reminder that we are all capable of SO much more in our time here. He was one of a kind and I feel honored to have called him a friend. I posted this poem called “for those who mourn” – as it helped me a bit after I heard the news. I hope it helps someone else who is grieving. http://melibeeglobal.com/2011/07/for-all-who-mourn/
    I will miss this gentle giant, the man with the soft voice, booming laugh, wicked sense of humor, sparkle in his eye and bear hugs for us all. He was such a gift.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 1:07 pm


    I was advised by several student advisors at ISSO. James is the one who had the most patience and knew complicated cases. I understand that ISSO is a busy office, but I do wish some advisors could show more patience like James and learn more about jobs.My condolences to his family.

  • Zornitsa on 07.07.2011 at 1:19 pm

    A tremendous loss

    James was a one of the warmest and wisest people I have ever known. This is a tremendous loss. My heart goes out to his family. We love you, James!

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 1:25 pm

    James passing was a tremendous loss to the profession of international student and scholar services. Our thoughts and prayers to his wife Sue.

  • University of Maine on 07.07.2011 at 1:59 pm

    UMaine Community


  • Pippa on 07.07.2011 at 2:20 pm

    We miss you already

    Who will fill the gap left by James? He was a HUGE inspiration to me as an International Student Service administrator. What a tremendous loss to ISSO, and International Students at BU. You will be missed James. RIP.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 2:56 pm

    May his soul rest in peace

    Mr. James Leck was my international student officer and had been the great help since I am here in U.S for my studies. His death has come as a shock to me, I still can’t believe that my hands are typing these words of condolence for Mr. Leck, somewhere in my heart I feel that he is still with us, smiling as he always use to do… May Allah Bless Him with Forgiveness and may his soul rest in peace!

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 3:05 pm

    We at the Center for Career Development worked with James and his colleagues on programming to help international students understand the job search – American style. His insights into creating relevant and meaningful workshop content, team-oriented work style, sense of humor, and wonderful presentation skills will all be missed. Most importantly his passion, huge heart, and our image of the ever-present twinkle in his eye live on.
    Condolences to his family and ISSO colleagues

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 3:31 pm

    You will be missed, Jim

    But I promise you we will take good care of your wife, Sue.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 3:43 pm

    I was saddened to read about James Leck’s passing. I was definitely an advisor who would always attend any session at NAFSA where James was a presenter. His knowledge and words of wisdom were invaluable. He will be greatly missed. I extend my prayers to his family and friends.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 4:26 pm

    Wonderful Person

    I met Jim (& Sue) when we were living in Chicago amost 15 years ago, and we became fast friends. While we didn’t get a chance to see each other as frequently as some friends, we would pick up where we left off every time we’d get together. Jim loved life and people and was one of the most caring individuals I have ever known. Jim had a way of putting everyone at ease. The world, his colleagues and friends have lost an amazing individual.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 5:13 pm

    James Leck

    Adding the voice of Student Health Services to the beautiful and true tributes. James was the one we knew to call with complex and challenging situations, because he knew what to do and he was always approachable. As so many comments reflect, he was a consummate professional who also was unfailingly compassionate. He was one of the first people I got to know at BU and he set the standard very high. His loss, for all the reasons people are mentioning, is huge, and the sadness is palpable. Prayers, comfort and warmth to his wife Susan and the many many friends, colleagues, students, and other family he has left missing him terribly.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 7:42 pm

    Adding one more voice, without words

    Just wanted to add one more voice but don’t have the words how much his spirit and service will be missed. A true and terrible loss.

  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 7:47 pm


  • Anonymous on 07.07.2011 at 8:29 pm

    A beautiful soul

    What a staggering loss not only to Jim’s family and friends but to the BU community. Jim was enormously dedicated to the students of Boston University, always staying late and coming in on weekends, and assisting students who were facing personal difficulties. He kept everyone optimistic and happy with his infectious smile and hilarious stories. Jim was never too busy for anyone and treated everyone with respect, kindness and generosity.

    His dedication to others is matched by his amazing wife, Sue Griffin, who is at the center of our thoughts and prayers. Jim, you will live on in our hearts, and Sue, we are all here for you.

  • Diane Kennedy-Jayne on 07.07.2011 at 10:43 pm

    Jimmy Leck

    I was fortunate enough to have gone to high school with Jimmy in Vernon NJ…He was loved then and I can see nothing has changed with the time.. Jim was always the school embassador..the first to cheer on his team, friends, our school. Jim was the guy you leaned or received hugs from as needed. There was no doubt he would wind up in education inspiring others as it came so natural to him even back then..This is just so sad. My condolences to his family, brother John and his wife Susan..
    What a loss

  • Anonymous on 07.08.2011 at 12:25 am

    You Will Be Missed!

    Jimmy, as we knew him, was a great kid, full of energy, smart, inquisitive, funny, always smiling. We lost our son nearly ten years ago at age nineteen so our hearts go out to the family. Hugs were both their signature greeting. Vernon will miss you James. You did great things!

  • John and Kathy Paskey on 07.08.2011 at 2:37 am

    What a sudden loss. . .

    John and I both remember Jim from Vernon, New Jersey where we both had him as a student. . .we remember him always with a camera around his neck and a smile on his face. . .
    We can’t believe he is gone. . . or deepest condolences to his family and friends who loved him and will miss him terribly. . .

  • Anonymous on 07.08.2011 at 1:09 pm

    Shocked and saddened

    I knew Jim well from his days at Plymouth State. I am shocked and saddened to hear of his passing at such a young age. All these notes tell me that Jim continued his life as he had been when I knew him: Fun, helpful and caring.
    Jim was in my list of people on Facebook that I should add, when I had time. Now, that’s another life lesson that Jim taught well, Don’t live for tomorrow!
    Sincere regrets to his family and friends. He will be missed!

  • Anita Ross on 07.08.2011 at 3:49 pm

    I knew Jim at Plymouth State. Such a kind guy. Prayers and thoughts to his family and many friends.

  • Darryl on 07.08.2011 at 3:57 pm

    Best Friend

    What is a best friend? The person you call first when things happen in your life. The one person you can always count on. When you call 2 months later it’s like you just hung up from the last conversation. The one who takes care of your kid when you can’t. That was J. Everett to me. This doesn’t do our relationship justice but is a start. You will be sorely missed by me and my family. Sue, we send you a big hug.

  • Anonymous on 07.08.2011 at 7:37 pm

    Grazie, James, per tutto quello che hai fatto per me. Sei un grande e mi starai sempre nel cuore. : (

  • Richard Rabbett on 07.08.2011 at 7:46 pm

    Still in shock

    Although I hadn’t worked directly with James for several years on immigration issues related to our dental school students, he was always available and willing to answer any questions I had regarding any immigration matter. When I just happened to pop into the ISSO two months ago, James greeted me with that big smile of his and made me feel as welcome as a colleague as I know he did the many students he assisted over the years. Good work James – and THANK YOU. You will be sorely missed by all of your friends and colleagues at the Dental School and Boston University.

  • Pattie Moshinskie on 07.09.2011 at 9:52 pm

    Remembering Jim

    I went to Vernon High with Jim. Didn’t stay in contact with him once he graduated. However when I read this article about all he accomplished and how he touched people’s lives I see that he didn’t change from the High School days. Always positive, strong and encouraging. He did have a lighter side and loved to joke around. My prayers are with his family.

  • Cheryl (Renta) Holston on 07.10.2011 at 7:10 am

    Truly a loss

    I met Jim when I was an 8th grader at Vernon Twp HS. He was Student Council President. The incident that led me to meet him is that my books disappeared from the lunchroom table I was sitting. He saw that I needed help and didn’t hesitate to help me track down my books. Turned out that a few of the kids threw them into the cafeteria garbage. As messy as those books were, he cleaned them off for me and told me it would be okay and don’t let people like that get me down. I never forgot his kindness that day. He was such a sweetheart and he will be missed. My condolences to the family. God Bless.

    Cheryl (Renta) Holston-VTHS Class of 1985

  • Anonymous on 07.10.2011 at 10:53 pm

    My condoleances to James Leck’s family. All my legal documents as an International Student bears his name. I will never forget you for the wonderful work you did for me!

  • Tim Keefe - Dean of Students - PSU on 07.11.2011 at 9:13 am

    Larger than Life

    I first met Jim when I was the Director of the College Union and Student Activities at then Plymouth State College (now University). He was the first incoming freshman to ever seek me out to thank me for what he felt was an outstanding orientation program. Out of the ordinary, which is probably the best commentary for his life except for adding the prefix “extra”. Our paths have crossed a few times over the years and we had talked about his coming to Plymouth to give us some of his great insights on our developing International Student program. One of many memorable moments was the night Jim and Charlie Francis built a surprise enormous snow man peering in our picture window, in the middle of the night, to the delight of my children when they awoke and opened the blinds the next morning!

    Jim will be missed and his memory will live forever. The thoughts and prayers of Plymouth State are with his many family, friends, and colleagues.

    Tim Keefe – Dean of Students – Plymouth State University

  • Anonymous on 07.11.2011 at 2:42 pm

    Very Shocked and Saddened

    James Leck was a friend, mentor and truly wonderful person. He always took the time to teach, encourage and support, he was always there to answer questions and talk things through. I would truly not be where I am today without his patience, dedication and positive approach to looking at the world. He will be sorely missed.

  • On behalf of SIT alums everywhere... on 07.11.2011 at 5:18 pm

    On behalf of SIT alums everywhere...

    …our condolences to Jim’s family and fond rememberences of a wonderful person.

  • Anonymous on 07.12.2011 at 9:55 am

    So sad

    Jim had so much wisdom about international advising, which was paired with an obvious love for life and an ability to connect so quickly with people. I always caught his sessions at the local conferences. It there was one person I would have emulated in this field more than others, it was him. He will be greatly missed. My prayers are with his family and friends.

  • Rob Hallworth on 07.12.2011 at 12:40 pm

    A tremendous loss

    I was fortunate to enroll in a few of James’ NAFSA workshops and to work with him on some NAFSA projects in Region XI as well. He had a great compassion, an obvious love of international education, a wonderful sense of humor, and a list of random talents that seemed to grow every time I spoke to him. My sincere condolences to his family, friends and co-workers. I am saddened by this tremendous loss.

  • Anonymous on 07.12.2011 at 12:44 pm

    shocking news

    So surprised by this news. My condolences to the family. He was a kind man!

  • Kelly Sullivan on 07.13.2011 at 9:22 pm

    Memorial Service

    I came from Pennsylvania to attend the memorial service for James Leck. Our families have been blessed to be special friends for almost 40+ years. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else. I would like to comment on what a beautiful memorial service BU had for him. They showed the true meaning of Love. During the closing of the memorial service, the prelude was being played while a slide show was being presented. During which, a butterfly flew in the church window. Flew directly over our families heads towards the alter and disappeared. I must say, Jimmy was there with us, showing us He will live within all of us and all will be ok. God works in wonderful ways. God Bless Jimmy. Thank you again BU for such a beautiful memorial service.

  • Susan Wilson on 06.30.2013 at 4:46 pm

    Jim Leck in 1982 was the student representative to the New Jersey State Board of Education which makes policy for the public schools. As a member, I had the pleasure of getting to know him. He
    worked very hard on the issue of the day, requiring sex education in the schools of which he was
    very supportive and helpful in ensuring that all NJ studnets would receive honest, accurate life-saving
    education in this area of their lives. I found a lovely letter from him dated January 10, 1988 when going through some papers and determined to find him as I had not answered the letter he wrote me.
    How very sad to find that he is dead. But how illuminating and life enhancing to know that he had such a fulfilling and satisfying life and touched so many in the important work that he did in internaional education. Although Jim hasn’t been in my life for many years, he will now be there and I like so many who knew and respected him will mourn his death. My sympathy and condolences to his wife, Susan, and his family.

  • MM on 12.05.2015 at 8:55 pm

    Mr Leck was an excellent international students adviser who took his work to heart. I remember him often. I was blessed because he lived.

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