The loss of Dr. Hayward Farrar Jr., one of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s leading African studies scholars and author of a history of the Baltimore AFRO American Newspaper, was mourned by family, friends and Black scholars June 11.
Better known as Woody, the 63-year-old Baltimore native passed away at his home May 31 after a long illness. His career in academics and student activism spanned more than two decades at higher education institutions throughout the eastern third of the U.S., including several HBCUs.
Farrar’s life and achievements were remembered and celebrated at a June 11 memorial service at the River of Life Christian Center just before he was buried at the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery.
“For most of his career he was doing service. He was very optimistic, upbeat, positive, and always generous with his time,” said Dr. Mark Barrow, chair of the history department at Virginia Tech. “His expertise was something that we really valued, especially his knowledge of African American history, particularly urban African American history in Baltimore.”
In 2012, Farrar was named the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Africana Studies at Virginia Tech. On his web site, he listed as his areas of expertise American History, World War II, modern military history, the Vietnam War, terrorism and sports history.
“He got more and more involved with giving back and made a conscious choice to be of service to others and give of himself,” Barrow told the AFRO.
Farrar received his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland and earned his master’s degree and doctorate in history at the University of Chicago.
While attending the University of Maryland in the 1960s, Farrar was a key force in the establishment of a Black student union and the creation of a Black studies program, according to close friend and fellow Virginia Tech professor, Peter Wallenstein.
Farrar later documented his work as an undergraduate in an essay, which was edited by Wallenstein and added as an additional chapter to his book on higher education and the Civil Rights Movement.
“He was a fine man, a fine colleague, and a fine friend,” said Wallenstein. “A loyal friend indeed--there was one point in particular where he came through for me, not only declaring his support- but demonstrating it.”
According to Wallenstein, Farrar was well-versed in several different topics when it came to his love of history.
“He knew an astonishing amount about an extraordinary range of things-- 1960s music, sports, whether baseball or football, the British monarchy, the French navy, you name it,” Wallenstein told the AFRO.
Farrar wrote Leaders and Movements: African American Life, published by Rourke Press in 1995, and The Baltimore Afro-American 1892-1950, published in 1998 by Greenwood Press.
“He had great dreams, personal and professional, some of them never realized, and he was keenly aware of that, but others very much realized, and he was very aware of those too, and grateful,” said Wallenstein.
At the time of his death, Farrar was completing another historical text focused on Baltimore’s Black community between 1950 and the year 2012.
Colleagues said Farrar set high standards for minority students. Prior to joining the Virginia Tech staff in 1992, he taught at Fisk University, Spelman College, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
In addition to being a writer and scholar, Farrar was an officer in the U.S. Navy, retiring in 1995 at the rank of lieutenant commander. Among his active duty assignments was race relations officer on board the carrier USS John F. Kennedy, 1972 to 1976.
“He was a favorite in the core of cadets and enjoyed teaching the military courses,” said Glenn Bugh, who has taught at Virginia Tech since 1979.
“He held down a key area of the department for many years and he did it with dignity and style. He was always approachable and the student’s knew it.”
Bugh said that Farrar took an active hand in positively changing the Virginia Tech history curriculum, had a way of connecting personally with students and faculty.
“He never tried to curry favor. He really meant it,” said Bugh. “He was the only faculty members in the department who regularly stopped by my office to ask about my son, who was serving in the Army in Iraq as a combat medic, and then in Afghanistan as a flight medic.”
Bugh remembers those visits as “a sincere gesture of concern on his part, coming from an old Navy veteran.”
“He was a sweet and decent fellow, always upbeat, dedicated to his students in teaching and mentoring, and a strong advocate for minorities at Virginia Tech.”