UC Berkeley political scientist, professor William Muir dies at 83

William Muir, a political scientist and professor emeritus at UC Berkeley for more than 40 years, died Feb. 26. He was 83 years old.

To many, Muir was more than just the influential professor who authored several landmark books in his field — ranging from American political leadership and campaigning to the mechanics of Congress and the exercise of presidential power. He was “Sandy” — a hero to many, optimistic despite adversity.

Muir received UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1974 and the Phi Beta Kappa Northern California’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1992. He was diagnosed with polio shortly after graduating from Yale University magna cum laude.

Forced to abandon his plans to join the military as a lieutenant, Muir was hospitalized for 31 weeks and didn’t complain once, remembered UC Berkeley professor and friend Jack Citrin.

“Sandy always (seemed) to snatch victory … from the jaws of apparent disaster,” said Robert Kagan, a UC Berkeley professor and close friend, in a speech. “(He was) one of the few people I have ever met for whom I would use the word indomitable — not quixotic, indomitable.”

Kagan, while recalling the “sumptuous lunches” spent with Muir eating peanut butter sandwiches, said he remembered the way Muir plunged headfirst into whatever he studied.

While exploring the inner workings of the California Legislature, Muir spent countless nights snoozing on an office couch in Sacramento. Later, Muir spent a year working as a speechwriter for former vice president George H.W. Bush to “go beneath the skirts of the bully pulpit,” Kagan said.

“When Sandy wanted to study the exercise of power, he didn’t go after (a) grant. He did not collect $200,000 dollars. He went directly to jail,” Kagan said, recalling how Muir “hung out” in local police departments, accompanying policemen on their patrols to observe their behavior.

Muir, frequently seen riding through campus on his electric golf cart with his wheelchair on hand, brought his signature perseverance to his political research. Kagan said Muir “knew all the ways in which things go wrong, but what he focused on was how things go right.”

When he decided to study political campaigns, Muir ran for office as a Republican candidate in a Democratic district where he would certainly lose, just for the experience.
“He always joked about that, saying ‘I knew I was gonna get beaten, I just didn’t know how badly I was going to get beaten,’ ” Citrin said.

Muir’s classmate and close friend Don Clifford joked that he should have been the president of the United States.

“He was one of the most outstanding human beings I ever knew,” Clifford said. “Sandy is my hero, and I don’t have many of those. He was exceptional.”

Muir is survived by his wife, Paulette, his two daughters, Kerry and Hattie, his three grandchildren, Mac, Joey and Maggie, and his older brother, Howie.

Contact Cassie Ippaso at [email protected].