Columbia Reaction to Ken Lay's Death

1 decade 7 months 2 weeks ago July 05, 2006 Jul 5, 2006 Wednesday, July 05 2006 Wednesday, July 05, 2006 9:02:25 PM CDT in News

But, Lay still has his supporters.

"I was better for knowing him," said Bernie Esser of Columbia. "I am better for knowing him."

Esser said he will miss the Lay he knew from their time together at the University of Missouri in the 1960s, when he met the former Enron executive in an economics class.

Esser said the man now linked with financial failure, corporate controversy and scandal is not the Ken Lay he remembered.

"It was very easy to be around Kenny Lay and feel successful yourself," Esser recalled. "And it didn't come from me, it came from him. I knew that if Kenny Lay could do it, maybe I could do it, too."

Lay gave $1.1 million in Enron stock to MU in 1999 to endow a chair in economics. But, the university could not fill the position, and it refused to return the money, first when Lay wanted to donate it to Hurricane Katrina victims, and later so he could pay for his legal defense. The head of the MU campus said Wednesday there has been no further discussion about the endowment.

"We've not taken any time to address any issue there really," said Chancellor Brady Deaton. "Right now, we're concerned about the family and expressing our regrets to them and reflecting on the generosity that the family has shown to the University of Missouri."

Lay graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in 1964, then received his master's in economics in 1965. He earned a doctorate from the University of Houston in 1970, then went to work for the federal agency that regulates natural gas before starting his climb up the corporate ladder. In 1984, he joined the company that would become Enron. Before he resigned in 2001, Lay was one of the nation's highest paid business executives at up to $42 million a year.

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