Remembering Curtis W. Tarr, Johnson’s Seventh Dean, 1985-1989

Johnson’s seventh dean focused on strengthening relationships at Cornell and throughout the business world, and building a world-class faculty representing all of the academic disciplines in management.

Remembering Curtis W. Tarr, Johnson’s Seventh Dean, 1985-1989

Curtis W. Tarr, who served as the seventh dean of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, 1985-1989, died June 21, 2013 in his home in Walnut Creek, Calif.
During his tenure as dean of Johnson, Tarr was an advocate for broadening the curriculum and creating an interdisciplinary approach to business education by deepening its relationships with other colleges and departments at Cornell. He also emphasized the importance of tying management research to the immediate problems business people face. Under his tenure, Johnson began offering joint degree programs with the College of Engineering and the Department of Asian Studies. Tarr was also recognized for his role in conducting a successful capital campaign that enabled him to create new endowed professorships, provide new computer resources, and increase financial aid for students. Over five successful years of hiring new faculty members, he built a world-class faculty representing all of the academic disciplines in management. As a result of the strong relationships he built with many corporations, Johnson set new records in the number of recruiters who came to Ithaca to interview Johnson MBAs in the mid- to late-1980s.

Tarr earned a BA in economics at Stanford University, MBA at Harvard University, and PhD in history from Stanford University. Among the many positions he held throughout his varied career prior to coming to Johnson, he served as president of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc. (1963-69) and was an assistant dean and lecturer in business history at Stanford University. Immediately before coming to Johnson he was a vice president at John Deere, where he held roles in operations, overseas development, and management development. He held three Presidential appointments during the Vietnam War, most notably as director of the Selective Service System, a position he was appointed to in 1970 by President Nixon. In that role, Tarr instigated the lottery system in an attempt to bring equity to the drafting of thousands of young American men by picking birthdays on national television.

Tarr began his work in the Nixon Administration as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, where he worked on the transfer of arms and equipment to the government of Vietnam as American units withdrew from combat. At the Selective Service System, he assisted the White House and Pentagon staffs to establish the All-Volunteer Force, thus ending the draft. Then, in 1972, the President selected Tarr to become the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, where he had responsibility for military programs with foreign nations. He also served as Acting Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management. Before entering government service, Tarr served with distinction in combat in Europe in Patton’s Third Army.

After leaving Cornell in 1990, Tarr became executive vice president of the Intermet Corporation in Atlanta, an international automobile parts manufacturer, where he oversaw foundries in Germany and Sweden. In retirement, he continued to serve on numerous boards, including those of the Morehouse Medical School, State Farm Insurance Corp., Banta Corp., and Bethesda Home in Savannah, the oldest children’s home in the U.S.  During his distinguished career, Tarr received five honorary doctoral degrees.

Tarr loved travel – by all means of transport. He hiked 800 miles on the Appalachian Trail; bicycled many trips, including the C & O Canal; and paddled his canoe in the Boundary Waters and the Hennepin Canal. He flew light planes throughout his life. While at the Pentagon, Chuck Yeager took him through the sound barrier in an F-4. His love for boats included his cabin cruiser, Tarr Trek, in which he and his wife Kay navigated 1,000 miles of the river systems from Chicago to Chattanooga. He had visited every state in the U.S. by age 25 and traveled to 70 nations on business, government assignments, and for pleasure.

Tarr nurtured a lifelong interest in art and literature. He wrote several books and many articles. He played the flute and left a beautiful collection of his inimitable pen and ink drawings, drawn with detail and creativity throughout his life and throughout the world.

His spiritual life was a priority. All his life he was an active Methodist. He was devoted to the Boy Scouts of America and was an Adult Boy Scout volunteer.

Tarr is survived by his wife, Kay, of Walnut Creek, Calif., two daughters, Pamela Tarr of Los Angeles and Cynthia Tarr (Cliff Hugo) of Sonoma, Calif., a grandson, Ace Buckley, of Los Angeles, and two sisters, Muriel Kurtz of Eugene, Ore., and Marian Schreiter of Sacramento, Calif.


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