Political Scientist William W. Lammers Dies at 60

10/27/97
by James Lytle
Political scientist William Webster Lammers, an authority on presidential politics and federal policies toward the aging, died of colon cancer Tuesday, Oct. 7, at the USC/Norris Cancer Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 60.

Lammers, a professor of political science in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, dedicated his research to American political processes and public policy formation. Seeking perspective on the American political system, he was particularly interested in comparing the 50 states and the behavior of American presidents, members of Congress and other top federal officials.

"Much of the political science literature focuses on crisis situations and dramatic incidents," he said, "but it's difficult to compare presidencies on that basis. Study of presidential routines, on the other hand, can provide an effective measure for comparison."

Lammers developed a massive data bank on presidential activities - both in the United States and other nations - to facilitate his research on executive behavior and policy formation. Collaborating on a major project with USC political scientist Joseph Nyomarkay, he gathered data from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to develop comparisons, over a hundred-year period, on dimensions of change in the career patterns of cabinet members and other top government administrators.

Lammers analyzed the development of presidential and congressional policies on a wide variety of issues and concerns, including health care, energy, the economy, the environment and aging.

Findings of his comparative studies on government policies toward older adults were reported in Public Policy and the Aging (Washington, D.C.: Congres-sional Quarterly Books, 1983).

"The aging are destined to become a larger and more influential segment of American society," Lammers wrote in his 1983 book. "The falling birthrate beginning in the early 1960s, coupled with increases in life expectancy, makes this demographic shift inevitable. The number of older persons with the personal resources and political skills needed to participate in the political process is growing, and elected officials are becoming increasingly sensitive to their voting strength. The mixture of policies that will emerge in response to those political and demographic changes will have important implications not only for present and future aged populations but also for the very nature of American society."

Findings of Lammers' studies on comparative executive behavior were reported in Presidential Politics: Patterns and Prospects (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). His latest book, Comparing Presidents: Leadership and Domestic Policy, is slated for publication by Congressional Quarterly Books this year.

While his research centered on the politically powerful, Lammers never ignored the concerns of individual American citizens. In a 1983 interview with the USC News Service, he said: "All of us should remind ourselves of the importance of ordinary acts of kindliness, like offering to drive an elderly neighbor to a physician or just calling up your 80-year-old grandmother to ask how she's doing. To individually reach out and touch someone among the elderly - by telephone or otherwise - is really as consequential in its own way as any type of collective reform."

"William Lammers was an outstanding scholar and teacher," said Sheldon Kamieniecki, professor and chair of political science. "His research on the presidency, in particular, has shed important light on that critical office. He was an exemplary colleague and the moral backbone of our department. His presence, wisdom and good humor will be sorely missed."

Lammers was born in Waseca, Minn., on July 25, 1937. He attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 1959, 1960 and 1966, respectively, and was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa during his junior year. He was later to serve, from 1976 to 1978, as president of Phi Beta Kappa.

Lammers joined the USC faculty in 1964 as an instructor in political science. He was named an assistant professor in 1966, an associate professor in 1970 and a full professor in 1984. From 1971 to 1973 and again during the spring semester of 1986, he was acting chairman of the department of political science. During the 1970s, he served two terms in the USC Faculty Senate.

Beginning in 1976, his growing interest in policies on aging led to Lammers' affiliation as a research associate with USC's Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center. He was named a fellow of the center's Institute for Advanced Study in 1987.

Lammers made frequent television, radio and speaking appearances, particularly during election years, and served as a consultant on Social Security issues for legislative candidates.

He was a member of the American Political Science Association, the Policy Studies Organization, the Western Gerontological Society and the Presidency Research Group.

Lammers and his family were residents of the Rancho Park district of Los Angeles and members of the Westwood Presbyterian Church, where Lammers chaired the committee on aging.

Lammers is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughters Linda Lammers and Caroline Lammers, both of Los Angeles.

Services were held Sunday, Oct. 19, in the Westwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. A USC memorial service will be held Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 4 p.m. in the United University Church, 817 W. 34th St.