Robert C. Wood, 81, an academic who had a key role in starting the Department of Housing and Urban Development and was its first undersecretary before becoming president of the University of Massachusetts system in the 1970s, died April 1 at his home in Boston. He had cancer.
Early in his career, Dr. Wood worked at the Bureau of the Budget as a management-organization examiner in housing and urban affairs, was a lecturer at Harvard University and was chairman of the Political Science Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Robert C. Wood led the University of Massachusetts from 1970 to 1977.
He served on presidential task forces in the early 1960s that helped create the Cabinet-level HUD and what became the Model Cities Program, which helped focus federal resources on needy neighborhoods. In 1966, he became the No. 2 official at HUD under its first secretary, Robert C. Weaver.
At HUD, Dr. Wood had a key role in framing the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination in the selling or rental of real estate.
He held a brief recess appointment as HUD secretary in 1969, before President Richard M. Nixon replaced him, and then succeeded Daniel Patrick Moynihan as director of the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies.
From 1970 to 1977, he was the Boston-based president of the University of Massachusetts. He expanded the Boston branch into a full campus and oversaw the completion of the medical school in Worcester. He also had a key role in persuading trustees of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum to build the facility on the U-Mass. campus in Boston's Columbia Point neighborhood.
Starting in 1983, he spent a decade at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., as the Henry Luce Professor of Democratic Institutions and the Social Order.
Robert Coldwell Wood was born Sept. 16, 1923, in St. Louis and raised in Jacksonville, Fla. He served in the Army in Europe during World War II and participated in the Battle of the Bulge.
He was a 1946 summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University. He received a master's degree in public administration and a doctorate in government and political economy, both from Harvard.
Dr. Wood served on myriad academic and urban planning advisory committees and was a former chairman of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
He wrote several books, including the well-received "Suburbia, Its People and Their Politics" (1958). His other titles included "1400 Governments: The Political Economy of the New York Metropolitan Region" (1961), written with Vladimir V. Almendinger; "The Necessary Majority: Middle America and the Urban Crisis" (1972); "Remedial Law: When Courts Become Administrators" (1990), which he edited; and "Whatever Possessed the President? Academic Experts and Presidential Policy, 1960-1988" (1993).
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Margaret Byers Wood of Boston; three children, Frances Wood of Cambridge, Mass., Margaret Hassan of Exeter, N.H., and Frank Wood of New York City; and two grandchildren.