WALNUT CREEK -- Curtis W. Tarr, who held three presidential appointments during the Vietnam War era, including the top post at the Selective Service, died Friday in Walnut Creek from complications due to pneumonia. He was 88.

After serving in combat in Europe in the Third Army during World War II, he received degrees from Stanford and Harvard. He ran unsuccessfully for the Second Congressional District (which then covered most of Northern California excluding the coast) seat in 1958, but after earning a Ph.D. from Stanford, Tarr became president of Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis. in 1963, and he oversaw its subsequent evolution into Lawrence University.

In 1969, became assistant secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, where he had responsibility for personnel problems in the Air Force's active, reserve, and civilian forces. In 1970 President Richard Nixon appointed Tarr to be director of the Selective Service, to reform the draft at a time when resistance to conscription and the war in Vietnam had reached a peak.

"Tarr made the draft more equitable and understandable to young men, particularly the operation of the lottery and guidelines on conscientious objection," said Walnut Creek attorney Richard Lam, a Tarr family friend. "He could not gain Congressional approval for the most critical change he felt was needed -- the elimination of college deferments."

Tarr helped the White House and Pentagon transition to an all-volunteer military force before, in 1972, becoming Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance. There he had responsibility for military programs with foreign nations.

After leaving the State Department, Tarr became vice president of Deere & Co. in Moline, Ill., and later became dean of the Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. He retired from there in 1990 and joined Intermet Corporation in Atlanta, beginning as a consultant and ultimately being named acting chairman. Tarr served on numerous boards of directors including Deere & Co., State Farm Insurance, Banta Corporation and numerous nonprofit and charitable corporations.

He was an avid traveler, skipper of a cabin cruiser, a pilot, a pen-and-ink artist, and author of several books, notably "Private Soldier: Life in the Army from 1943-1946," published in 1976. He and his wife Mary Katherine Tarr lived in Rossmoor together for nine years.

Surviving Tarr are his wife; daughters in California Pamela Tarr of Sherman Oaks and Cynthia Tarr of Sonoma; sisters Muriel Kurtz of Eugene, Ore. and Marian Schreiter of Sacramento; and one grandson.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 21 at the San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church, 902 Danville Blvd. in Alamo.

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