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In Memoriam: Thomas Ely Lasswell, Sr., 90

By Pamela J. Johnson
September 8, 2010

Professor Emeritus Thomas Ely Lasswell, Sr., a national leader in the sociology of family, served as chair of the Department of Sociology in USC College from 1965 to 1966. Photo courtesy of USC College's Department of Sociology.

Professor Emeritus Thomas Ely Lasswell, Sr., a national leader in the sociology of family, served as chair of the Department of Sociology in USC College from 1965 to 1966. Photo courtesy of USC College's Department of Sociology.

Professor Emeritus Thomas Ely Lasswell, Sr., a national leader in the sociology of family, 30-year USC College scholar and former chair of the Department of Sociology, has died. He was 90.

Lasswell died due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease in Los Angeles on Dec. 20, 2009.

“My father was a great storyteller and could speak on any subject,” said Lasswell’s son, Thomas Lasswell, Jr., of Carson, Calif. “He had a natural way of making people feel comfortable. He was a very friendly person and put people at ease.”

Joining the College faculty in 1959, Lasswell retired in 1989. In the mid-60s, he served as chair of the Department of Sociology, and in the early ’70s, was director of the USC Marriage and Family Therapy Center. The Latin-speaking professor also served as director of the College’s Resident Honor's Program.

Lasswell made substantial contributions in the area of social stratification. Among other things, he coordinated a monograph series in stratification in which specialists in the field summarized and presented their latest findings. 

He wrote and co-wrote numerous scholarly works, including Class and Stratum (Houghton Mifflin, 1965), an analysis of Weber’ s status and lifestyle dimensions; When Architects Talk to People (with Neal Deasy in1985); and Marriage and the Family (Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1987), which he wrote with his then-wife Marcia Lasswell. His books were widely adopted in college courses.

Born in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 29, 1919, Lasswell graduated from Kennett High School at 14 and earned a bachelor’s in languages from Arkansas (now Lyon) College. He joined the Navy in 1940, earned an engineering certificate at Columbia University and taught courses in sonar while serving on a submarine chaser with the Atlantic fleet. As World War II ended, he was transferred to Point Mugu Naval Air Station in Ventura County as acting commandant.

In 1945, Lasswell entered graduate school at USC, earning an M.S. in mathematics. He taught math at Pomona High School while earning his Ph.D. in sociology at USC College in 1953. Lasswell taught at Pepperdine University and Grinnell College before joining USC faculty.

In addition to Thomas Lasswell, Jr., he is survived by children Jane Hoff of Hilo, Hawaii; Julia Dunn of Los Angeles; his former wife Marcia Lasswell of Los Angeles, and grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be sent to the Thomas and Marcia Lasswell Scholarship Fund at Lyon College, P.O. Box 2377, Batesville, Ariz., 72503 or to the Alzheimer's Society at alz.org.