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Presidential Scholar James David Barber Dies at Age 74

Barber rose to fame in 1972 with his book, "The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House"

James David Barber, a retired Duke University political science professor who achieved national acclaim as a presidential scholar and author, died on Sunday morning at his Durham home. He was 74.

Barber rose to fame in 1972 with his book, "The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House." In the book, he proposed that politicians' personalities could -- and should -- be analyzed. Barber is recognized by many as a pioneer in his field in examining how personal characteristics of presidents determine styles and leadership. In fact, Barber predicted that Richard Nixon's presidency was headed for crisis and failure.

"His scholarship was widely known and influential," said Duke political science professor Peter Fish. "His work on presidential power and presidential psychology was very salient at the time of the Nixon resignation. He was a wonderful teacher and a wonderful colleague, generous and thoughtful and kind."

Fish also credited Barber for building Duke's political science department. "He was a wonderful chairman. He really changed the department around and equalized the teaching loads of the junior and senior faculty and really made it an attractive department for the younger faculty."

Barber, born on July 31, 1930, in Charleston, W. Va., received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago. He earned his doctorate from Yale University. He arrived at Duke as chairman of the political science department in 1972 after teaching political science at Yale for several years.

Barber was a strong supporter of faculty governance at the university. He successfully opposed former university President Terry Sanford's attempt to house President Nixon's papers at Duke. In the 1980s, he also was one of the campus leaders who promoted governance reforms that gave faculty a stronger voice on campus.

He also spoke out on national issues and politics, opposing the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, among other issues.

His last work, "The Book of Democracy," was released by Prentice Hall in 1995. Other books include "The Pulse of Politics: Electing Presidents in the Media Age" and "Politics by Humans: Research on American Leadership."

Barber frequently lectured around the country, was regularly quoted about presidential politics and politics and the media, and served as co director for Duke's Center for Communication and Journalism. He was a consultant to NBC Nightly News for several years and served on the board of the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., for 11 years. The Poynter Institute educates journalists and studies ethics and other media issues.

In the mid 1980s, Barber was chairman of Amnesty International U.S.A.

Barber retired from teaching at Duke in 1995 when a neurological disorder made speech and speech comprehension difficult. Barber continued to be active in Durham civic and religious life. He helped raise money for Durham's soup kitchen through his church, St. Philip's Episcopal, and he started a program for the blind of Durham, organizing dinners and recreational events.

"He was a wonderful, cheerful personality," Fish said. "He was a devout Christian believer and really carried forth the mission of the Gospel in terms of outreach to the poor and those in need in Durham.

"I can't speak highly enough of him. He was just a fine human being. We were very fortunate to have him as long as we did."

A funeral is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19, at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, 403 E. Main St., Durham.