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Wednesday, March 4, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Robert Faris, 91, UW Sociologist

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Robert E. Lee Faris, a Texas-born scientist and Renaissance man, helped the University of Washington sociology department come of age.

When he chaired the department from 1953 to 1966, he shifted it toward treating the study of society as a science. In simply worded lectures and papers, he built on work pioneered by sociologists such as his father, the University of Chicago's Ellsworth Faris.

He also wrote sociology books and served as an adviser on public-policy issues for President Johnson. Yet Mr. Faris still made time to race sailboats with his family, play violin and paint.

"A long time ago U.S. News & World Report had an article about `Staying Healthy to Age 85' and he was quoted," said his son Roger Faris of Seattle.

"Progress, enthusiasm, energy and optimism. Those were his prescriptions for staying healthy. . . . He did it in such a way that got people excited and happy to follow his lead and live life more completely. And responsibly. He was big on that."

Mr. Faris died Feb. 25 of a stroke. He was 91.

He taught social psychology. He also was an expert on organizations.

"He was one of the cornerstone members of the department," said UW sociology professor emeritus Otto Larsen. "He was a national figure . . . He wrote with great clarity, and knew how to write without all the heavy-handed language we all use."

Mr. Faris' standards of scholarship were buttressed by a devotion to evidence; he would ask, "How do you know what you know?"

"He wasn't a mere speculative philosopher or journalistic commentator," Larsen said. "He looked hard for evidence that would support theoretical truths. That's why he was brought here in the first place."

Born in Waco, Texas, Mr. Faris grew up in Iowa and Illinois, earning bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Illinois. He taught at Brown University, Bryn Mawr College, McGill University and Syracuse University before coming to the UW in 1948.

He retired in 1970, moved to Coronado, Calif., in 1972, then returned to Seattle in 1990.

"He had character and integrity," said former colleague S. Frank Miyamoto. "You wouldn't realize how keen and sharp he was because he wouldn't speak up often. But when he did, it was from a strong intellectual background."

Other survivors include his sons William Faris of Tucson, Ariz., and Jack Faris of Edmonds; his brother, Ellsworth Faris Jr. of Chico, Calif.; and six grandchildren. His wife of 61 years, Clara Faris, died in 1992.

A memorial event is pending. Donations may go to Planned Parenthood of Seattle-King County, 2211 E. Madison St., Seattle, WA 98112; or to Seattle Children's Home, 2142 10th Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119.

Carole Beers' phone message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is: cbee-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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