Stanford's Robert Ward, pioneer in international studies, dead at 93

The political scientist's career veered from the Balkans after serving as a Japanese translator during World War II. In the decades that followed, his scholarship earned recognition from Japan and the United States for his contributions to fostering better relations between the countries and a deeper understanding of foreign affairs.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward founded and was the first director of the Center for Research in International Studies at Stanford, a precursor to the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Robert Ward launched his academic career expecting to become an expert on the Balkans. He learned Bulgarian and Croatian in graduate school, and began mapping his life as a budding political scientist.

Then World War II intervened. The Naval Intelligence Service swept through the country's college campuses looking for students who showed a knack for learning difficult languages. They found Ward studying at the University of California-Berkeley and sent him to the Navy Language School in Colorado. A year later, Ward was speaking Japanese and working on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff as a translator.

The war ended and Ward returned to Berkeley with a Legion of Merit Award. But after such a deep immersion into Japanese language and culture, he turned his attention away from the Balkans and toward the Land of the Rising Sun.

He spent the rest of his life teaching, writing books and fostering a greater understanding of Japan, comparative politics and international relations. At Stanford – where he taught from 1973 until his retirement in 1987 – he founded and was the first director of the Center for Research in International Studies, a precursor to the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Led Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission

Ward, who also led the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission that was established by President Ford in 1975 to nurture educational and cultural ties between the countries, died on Dec. 7. It was the 68th anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. He was 93.

"He never felt hatred or thought of Japan as an enemy," his daughter, Erica Ward, said. "He always approached things from an academic perspective and immersed himself in Japanese language and the culture. He was a huge believer in international understanding and cooperation."

His efforts were recognized by Japan, which awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1984 in recognition of long and meritorious service.

"Much to his embarrassment, my mother had it framed and displayed in the house," his daughter said. But when he traveled to Japan, he would wear a lapel pin identifying him as a member of the order.

Born in San Francisco in 1916, Ward decided against taking over the air conditioner installation business started by his father and earned a bachelor's degree from Stanford in 1936. After his academic interruption during WWII, he received his doctorate from Berkeley in 1948.

He was immediately hired at the University of Michigan, where he taught political science until 1973. While at Michigan, he directed the Center for Japanese Studies and was president of the American Political Science Association and the Association for Asian Studies. He was also a member of the national council of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1968 to 1973.

Ward required his graduate students to spend time in Japan doing fieldwork, and made frequent trips to the country himself. He spent a total of four years living in Japan with his family between 1950 and 1968.

"I went to 18 schools by the time I graduated high school," Erica Ward said. "But we got to see the world."

After rejecting several job offers while at Michigan, he quickly accepted a position at Stanford in 1973. His daughter had graduated from the university a year earlier, and his wife, Constance Barnett, was a member of the Class of 1939.

Considered Stanford 'home'

"The only place my dad would leave Michigan for was Stanford," Ward said. "He thought of it as going home."

At Stanford, Ward set up the Center for Research in International Studies and served as a member of President Carter's Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies. He served as chairman of the board for the Social Science Research Council, the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the American Panel of the United States-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange.

He was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society.

"Professor Ward was the leading academic on Japanese politics," said Daniel Okimoto, a professor emeritus of political science who worked for his doctoral degree at Michigan under Ward's guidance before following his mentor to Stanford.  "If you look at the last half-century of academics who shaped international discourse, academic programs and administrative entities, it would be hard to find anybody that brought together as many diverse strands of research, training and outreach as Bob Ward."

In addition to his daughter, Erica, and her husband, Ralph Gerson, Ward is survived by his brother, John Ward of Kentfield, Calif., and granddaughters Stephanie and Maddie Gerson.

Contributions in Ward's memory can be made to Stanford University for the benefit of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies or to a charity of one’s choice. To contribute online to Stanford, the web address is