Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

April 06, 2005

Robert C. Wood, 81, an academic, writer and administrator whose acumen on domestic issues such as housing and education prompted Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to seek his advice and the University of Massachusetts and the Boston school system to name him as their leader, died of stomach cancer Friday at his home in Boston.

For much of his career, Dr. Wood seemed the epitome of the university intellectual who periodically advises seekers and wielders of governmental power, usually quietly. But he also filled some high-profile positions, most notably as the superintendent of Boston schools, and helped Kennedy devise and carry out his urban and housing policies.

He wrote seven books on political science, including Suburbia: Its People and their Politics (1959). Harrison Salisbury wrote in The New York Times Book Review that the book "sketches with searing realism the actuality of the suburb," and others later suggested that it had popularized the word "suburbia."

As a senator running for president, Kennedy sought the advice of Dr. Wood, then a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on urban issues. In 1960, Dr. Wood helped write a notable campaign speech for Kennedy that focused on the needs of the American city.

In the Johnson administration, Dr. Wood led the task force that recommended the establishment of a Cabinet-level department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He then served as the department's first undersecretary and, for the last two weeks of Johnson's presidency, as its secretary.

Dr. Wood helped create the Model Cities Program, which focused federal revenues on needy neighborhoods. He also played an important part in developing the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited racial discrimination in real estate sales.

He then succeeded Daniel Patrick Moynihan as director of the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies. From 1970 to 1978, he was president of the University of Massachusetts, where his accomplishments included expanding the university's Boston branch into a full campus and overseeing the completion of the medical school in Worcester.

Dr. Wood also lured the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum to a site next to the university's Boston campus, a choice that news accounts at the time suggested was a setback for Harvard.

In the Boston school system, he was the first superintendent in 66 years to be chosen from outside the school system, and he ruffled feathers on issues such as staffing and desegregation in his two years in office. When the Boston School Committee fired him in 1980 after two stormy years, John D. O'Bryant, the first black elected to the committee in the 20th century, abstained, saying he did not "choose to be present at a lynching."

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