Hansford Farris (1919 – 2014): In Memoriam

Prof. Farris served as an active and highly respected member of the College of Engineering for more than 20 years.

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Hansford Farris (Ph.D. EE ’58), professor emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering, passed away December 7, 2014 at the age of 95. Prof. Farris served as an active and highly respected member of the College of Engineering for more than 20 years before his retirement in 1982.

A Kentucky native, Prof. Farris, known to his friends and colleagues as Bill, received his B.S. in Math and Physics and M.A. in Math and Education at Eastern Kentucky State College in 1941 and 1942, respectively. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps for four years before returning to school at the University of Illinois; he earned his M.S.E. degree in electrical engineering in 1948.

Prof. Farris joined the Department of Electrical Engineering (now the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) in 1953 as a Research Associate with the Electronics Defense Group (EDG). In 1958, he was appointed Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Director of the Cooley Electronics Laboratory (formerly the EDG).

Dr. Marlin Ristenbatt, research scientist emeritus, knew Bill since his early days in the Electronics Defense Group, and served with Prof. Farris for a short time as assistant director of the lab. Dr. Ristenbatt describes the research that occurred in the EDG as electronic communications. “Now we would call much of the efforts “signal processing,” said Marlin, “but that was pre-computer times.  It included signal detectability in noise, fuze jamming etc.”

When Professor Emeritus George Haddad launched a number of labs in the department, the faculty who worked in Cooley became members of the Communications Laboratory.

Professor Farris was promoted to Associate Professor in 1959, a year after he received his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, and promoted to Professor in 1962. From 1963 to 1965, he was Associate Director of the U-M Institute of Science and Technology and served as the first Director of its Industrial Development Division.

Prof. Farris served as Department Chair from 1965 to 1968. He was then named Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and held this position for five years; he was primarily responsible for the College’s research programs. Twice during his tenure at Michigan, Prof. Farris served as Acting Dean for the College.

“Bill was a problem solver for many situations both as a senior faculty member and as an administrator,” recalled Professor Emeritus Dave Anderson. “I attribute this to his open character which made him approachable and even proactive in noticing problems and wanting to help.”

As a faculty member who devoted much of his career and efforts to management, Bill Farris was known as a manager who cared deeply about the faculty he served. When acting in interim roles, he was not afraid to take action, yet always acted in a manner that reflected his roots as a Kentucky gentleman.

Among his major projects at Michigan were the initiation of the College of Engineering’s Instructional Television System, an off-campus interactive, distance learning television network. During the mid-70s, he wrote and narrated Future Without Shock, a series of half-hour programs on the role of the engineer in modern society. These programs have been aired widely and were recently presented in Gainesville, Florida as a lecture series.

Prof. Farris received the HKN Outstanding Teacher Award in 1961-62, and the Amoco Outstanding Teacher Award in 1976. His alma mater, Eastern Kentucky State University, awarded him the Distinguished Alumnus Citation in 1974.

He served IEEE in many official capacities, including Chair of the Southeastern Michigan Section, Chair of the National Electronics Conference, and Chair of the Educational Activities Board.

After his retirement, Prof. Farris moved to Gainesville, Florida. He was later asked to initiate the Electrical Engineering program at the University of North Florida, which offers an electrical engineering scholarship in his name.

Prof. Farris has left a lasting impression on many colleagues and friends and led a full life committed to his family and his profession. We salute his contributions and thank him for all that he contributed to the department and the discipline.

Hansford Farris: Obituary, The Ann Arbor News, December 12, 2014

U-M Memoir, Regents’ Proceedings 337, May 1982

Future Without Shock Episodes, TV Guide

Commentary by Lee Teschler, ECE alumnus, editor and science writer, who took his first course with Prof. Farris. Posted 12/18/14 in Design World.

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