William J. Harris Jr., science administrator

December 15, 2012

William J. Harris Jr., 94, a science administrator and transportation authority who worked in academia and nonprofit organizations, died Dec. 5 at his home in East Falmouth, Mass.

He had complications from myelodysplastic anemia, a bone-marrow disorder. A son, William J. Harris III, confirmed the death.

Before receiving a doctorate, Dr. Harris served in the Navy during World War II as head of armor design for naval aircraft. After the war, he headed the ferrous alloys branch of the Naval Research Laboratory’s metallurgy division.

Starting in the early 1950s, he worked in the Washington area for the National Academy of Sciences and Battelle Memorial Institute, one of the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organizations. At Battelle, he helped establish the Korean Institute of Science and Technology, which played a key role in economic development of that country from an agrarian to an industrialized society.

From 1970 to 1985, Dr. Harris was vice president for research of the Association of American Railroads in Washington. He was credited with making major improvements to railroad safety and efficiency and, in 1976, was named Railroad Man of the Year by Modern Railroads magazine.

From 1985 to 1995, Dr. Harris was a distinguished professor of transportation engineering at Texas A&M University and associate director of the Texas Transportation Institute.

As a leading transportation expert, he was recruited in the late 1990s to the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection. He then spent several years as a consultant, helping to implement the findings, which warned of the vulnerability of the nation’s communications and electrical networks to terrorist attack.

William James Harris Jr. was a native of South Bend, Ind. In 1940, he received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in metallurgy from Purdue University in Indiana. He received a doctorate in metallurgy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1948.

He was elected to the National Academy of Engineers and held leadership roles in metallurgical and engineering societies. He was a past executive committee member of the Transportation Research Board. His other memberships included the Cosmos Club.

In 2007, he moved to East Falmouth from Arlington County’s Rosslyn neighborhood.

His first wife, Ruth Laubinger, died in 1977 after 33 years of marriage. His second wife, Elizabeth Dotten Shafer, died in 2011 after 33 years of marriage.

Survivors include two children from his first marriage, June Sherren of St. Paul, Minn., and William J. Harris III of Columbus, Ohio; three stepchildren, Debbie Hayden of North Falmouth, Mass., Britta Shafer of Xalapa, Mexico, and Barkley Shafer of Newton, Mass.; and seven grandchildren.

— Adam Bernstein