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OBITUARY: Curtis William Tarr

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Curtis Tarr

September 18, 1924 – June 21, 2013

The former federal official who oversaw the lottery selection system used to pick draft-age men during the Vietnam War has died of pneumonia at his home in Walnut Creek. Curtis W. Tarr was 88.

A Harvard-educated scholar who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and who was the seventh dean of the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, Mr. Tarr was perhaps best known for his role as director of the Selective Service System under then-President Richard Nixon in 1970.

Millions of draft-age Americans watched him spin the drum containing their birth dates during nationally televised selections which determined who was eligible for induction into the U.S. Army as the war in Vietnam raged. Mr. Tarr’s daughter told the Associated Press that that part of his life was one in which he bore the greatest responsibility, but not one her father considered his greatest achievement. Pam Tarr said her father was attempting to find a fair and equitable way to draft men into the military during a tumultuous time in the nation’s history.

Mr. Tarr earned his B.A. degree from Leland Stanford Jr. University, his M.B.A. from Harvard University and returned to Stanford to earn his Ph.D. in American history. He began his academic career as a lecturer and assistant dean of humanities at Stanford. In 1960, he ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate, California 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Following his time with Selective Service Mr. Tarr served as Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance and Acting Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management. He is the author of the recent “Private Soldier: Life in the Army from 1943-1946” and of numerous articles in professional journals.