Frederic LeRoy Pryor
23 April 1933
|Died||September 2, 2019 (aged 86)|
|Known for||involvement in Cold War "spy swap"|
|Home town||Mansfield, Ohio|
Frederic LeRoy Pryor (April 23, 1933 – September 2, 2019) was an American economist. While studying in Berlin during the partition of the city in 1961, he was imprisoned in East Germany for six months, then released in a Cold War "spy swap" that also involved downed American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. He spent the bulk of his career as a member of the Swarthmore College faculty, as a professor of economics.
Early life and education
Frederic LeRoy Pryor and his twin brother Millard were born April 23, 1933, in Owosso, Michigan, to Millard H. and Mary S. Pryor, but spent most of their childhood in Mansfield, Ohio, and graduated in 1951 from Mansfield Senior High School. He attended Oberlin College, where he received a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1955. He then spent a year in South America and Europe, which included three months living and working on a commune in Paraguay. He studied economics at Yale University, where he received a master's degree in 1957, then undertook a doctorate program.
Cold War incident
In 1959, as part of his doctorate studies, Pryor went to Berlin, where he was finishing his doctoral thesis and also taking classes at the Free University of West Berlin. In August 1961, days after the Berlin Wall was erected, he visited East Berlin to deliver a copy of his dissertation to a professor there, and to contact a friend's sister, an engineer who – unknown to Pryor – had just illegally fled to West Germany. The Stasi (East German secret police) arrested Pryor on charges of aiding the woman's escape; after the police found a copy of Pryor's doctoral dissertation (an analysis of Soviet bloc foreign trade), he was accused of espionage and detained without charge. Pryor's cell was directly above an East German torture room. While jailed, Pryor was intensively interrogated, although not tortured.
On February 10, 1962, after almost six months of detention, Pryor was freed at Checkpoint Charlie, just before American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was swapped for Soviet KGB Colonel William August Fisher at the Glienicke Bridge between West Berlin and Potsdam, East Germany, as a result of negotiations conducted by James B. Donovan.
Pryor's involvement in this incident is dramatized as a subplot in the 2015 film Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks as Donovan. Actor Will Rogers depicted Pryor. Pryor was not consulted for the film, about which he commented, "It was good. But they took a lot of liberties with it."
Pryor received his doctorate from Yale in 1962, but his purported involvement in espionage and his imprisonment limited job opportunities in government—his preferred career—or industry. Pryor did not want to teach but went to work in academia, as an economics instructor at the University of Michigan until 1964 and as a staff research economist at Yale until 1967. He joined the economics faculty at Swarthmore College in 1967; "Swarthmore didn’t care" about his imprisonment, Pryor recalled. "In fact, I think the students kind of got a kick out of having an ex-con teaching them". He became a full professor, and chaired the department for three periods in the 1980s. Pryor specialized in comparative economics; he retired from active work at the college in 1998, but remained a professor emeritus. Pryor published 13 books and more than 130 scholarly articles.
Pryor worked as an economic advisor in Ukraine and Latvia, was employed as a consultant to the World Bank in Africa, served as a Research Director to the Pennsylvania Tax Commission, and was a research associate at both the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, California, and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He twice served as judge of elections, a local elected position in Pennsylvania. He won research grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Council of Soviet and East European Studies, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served as a trustee at historically black colleges such as Miles College, Wilberforce University, and Tougaloo College.
- Valerie Smith (September 10, 2019). "In Honor of Professor Emeritus of Economics Frederic L. Pryor". Swarthmore College.
- Richard Sandomir, Frederic Pryor, Player in 'Bridge of Spies' Case, Dies at 86, New York Times (September 11, 2019).
- Alan Glenn, The spy who never was, Michigan Today, University of Michigan (January 21, 2016).
- Jeff Gammage, Swarthmore prof was snared in 'Bridge of Spies' case, Philadelphia Inquirer (October 25, 2015).
- Ryan Dougherty, Economist Frederic Pryor Recounts Life as a 'Spy', Swarthmore College (October 21, 2015).
- "Abel for Powers". Time. February 16, 1962. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
- Wicker, Tom (February 10, 1962). "Powers is Freed by Soviet in an Exchange for Abel; U-2 Pilot on Way to U.S." The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
- Mark Jenkins, Spielberg Takes On The Cold War In 'Bridge Of Spies', NPR (October 15, 2015).
- "Fredric Pryor resumé".