Sociology Pioneer at UO Dies at 68

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 14, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Sociology Pioneer at UO Dies at 68

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

Prominent University of Oregon sociology professor Lawrence Carter, who helped develop a formula for forecasting mortality rates that is used around the world, died Sunday. He was 68.

Carter did groundbreaking work with Ronald Lee at the University of California, Berkeley, that resulted in what is known as the Lee-Carter model, which is widely used in predicting population growth, life expectancies, the size of the labor force and other demographic trends. The model still is in use and has been a key part of forecasts prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau, United Nations and governments of numerous countries.

Although he rarely spoke of it, Carter also played a strong role in efforts to improve conditions for African-Americans in Lane County and to defuse tensions between the city and the Black Panthers in the early 1970s. He was one of the few African- American professors at the UO at the time.

Carter died at his Eugene home from complications of multiple sclerosis. He is survived by his wife, Maile; a daughter, Elizabeth; a son, Christopher, and two grandchildren. Plans for a memorial service will be announced later.

"He was just such good person," Maile Carter said. "A great mind and a great person."

Carter was born in 1943 in Washington, D.C. As a young man he received a military scholarship to study at Howard University and joined the Air Force as an officer after graduation. He achieved the rank of captain and worked maintaining radar sites, but his wife said he became discouraged by racism in the service and resigned his commission in 1965 and enrolled at the UO.

In those early years in Eugene he also worked to train people for the Volunteers In Service to America program and was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality. He also worked to help integrate the Eugene Police Department and city housing, helping black residents find new homes when they were being forced to move from a neighborhood near the Ferry Street Bridge because of new development.

He also taught a group of people to lobby and helped pass legislation providing scholarships for women on welfare. He was on the city's human rights commission for a number of years and helped organize a credit union and food co-op for low-income people.

"Larry believed in empowering people to do things for themselves," his wife said.

His wife recalled that at one point he was traveling as far away as Alaska with the VISTA program while he was taking classes at the UO. She said she would attend the class and take notes, and he would read the textbook, then come back to Eugene for exams.

"He got A's in everything," she said, adding that his IQ was tested at 160, or exceptionally gifted. "He never got anything below an A all the way through college.

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