William F. Starr


The Rev. Dr. William Frederic Starr, a direct descendant of Dr. Comfort Starr, who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, died on Feb. 11, in his home in Chilmark, surrounded by his family. He was 83.

Mr. Starr was born on May 17, 1933 in New Haven, Conn., but spent his youth in Watertown, Conn. He attended the Taft School, Yale University, General (Episcopal) Seminary in New York, and received a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

He was briefly an adjunct professor at Columbia, teaching the ethics of urban planning in the School of Architecture. He also taught courses at Queens College.

Most of his career, however, was spent at Columbia as Episcopal campus minister from 1965 to his retirement in 2002. In this capacity he is remembered for being an advocate not only for students but also for faculty and workers. He secured venues for many organizations to meet and his office was often headquarters for activists.

Mr. Starr played a memorable role in the 1968 student strike at the university, which was sparked by two immediate issues: intelligence that the university was conducting secret research for the Institute of Defense Analysis, a weapons research think tank with affiliation with the U.S. Department of Defense; and plans to build a segregated gym in adjacent public Morningdale Park.

Student protests led to brutal clashes with the New York Police Department for weeks that spring. During the occupation of Hamilton Hall, Mr. Starr, “married” a couple and pronounced them “children of the new age.” He helped organize and lead a counter-commencement for the Class of ‘68.

Arrested several times during his career, Mr. Starr was criticized by his church and the university for not confining himself to “religious matters.” Over his career his funding was cut many times, but his activism continued for decades with the formation of the Barnard and Columbia Anti-War Coalition, campaigns for the university to divest from South Africa, support for the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, aid to the members of District 36 in their union-organizing struggle, advocacy for the Rape Crisis Center, and many other causes, local and international.

Mr. Starr began coming to the Vineyard as a summer resident in 1970. For the past 14 years he lived year round with his family in Chilmark. He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Susan Strane; a daughter, Elsa Starr; a son, Morgan Strane-Starr; and two grandchildren, Cyrus Starr Kennedy and Violet Starr Kennedy.