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Remembering Murray Straus

Huddleston Hall held a memorial service on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 3 p.m. for perhaps one of the most legendary and influential UNH faculty members, the late Murray Straus.
The memorial began with a performance by the UNH Woodwind Quartet, followed by speeches from UNH sociology professor and director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center David Finkelhor, former chair of sociology Sally Ward and dean of students John T. Kirkpatrick.
“[Straus] was a professor of sociology here at UNH from 1968 until his death in 2016,” Finkelhor said. Straus, who was also the director of the Family Research Laboratory, passed away at age 89 on May 13, 2016.
Finkelhor credits the late professor for sparking his interest in the topics of family violence and child abuse. “I came to UNH to study with [Straus], continued because I wanted to work with him and then eventually became a faculty member along-side him,” Finkelhor said.
Straus grew up in New York City and went to the University of Wisconsin. Though he originally studied rural sociology and family measurement, Straus became interested in researching the topic of family violence during the 1960s.
“Prior to his work, peoples’ general sense of ‘crime’ was that it was mostly something that happened on the streets, at the hands of strangers,” Finkelhor said. “And his research very clearly established that people were at more risk of being assaulted or raped by members of their own family and intimate partners than they were by strangers.”
Straus was renowned for creating one of the first national surveys about peoples’ experiences with family violence and he also wrote one of the first books in academia discussing the controversial topic of rape. It was through his research that the idea of spanking children came to be seen as unacceptable, according to a pamphlet distributed at the memorial.
“Another thing is that UNH is regarded as one of the leading institutions in the country on researching interpersonal violence, and the fact that all these people interested in this topic are at UNH today is largely due to his influence,” Finkelhor said.
Aside from his enormous influence on sociology, many who knew Straus described him in nothing but positive terms.
“He was just a delightful person,” Finkelhor said. “He was very informal, approachable and loved to collaborate with people. He had a tremendous facility for pursuing ideas with people in a collaborative way and he always wanted to hear your opinion.”
“He was caring and funny,” Straus’s widow, Dorothy, said,  also mentioning the passion Straus had for his work. “He could never travel without working. He would work 24/7. No matter where we went, the work was tied in with it.”
According to Finkelhor, Straus was also quite a character. “He used to drive around campus in a little scooter, even when he got very old. He also wore sandals to work, no matter the weather. I never saw him wear shoes,” Finkelhor said.
Outside of work, Straus was known for his love of traveling, sailing and skiing. “He loved to go on trips, and it really energized him, looking forward to the next trip, planning it and then going on it,” Straus’ step-son David Dunn said.
“We did a lot of skiing all over the world. He skied until he was 85, and it was hard for him to give it up at that point,” Dorothy said.
Straus’s legacy will undoubtedly continue to live on. “I think he is the father of the whole family-violence research field,” Finkelhor said. “I think he’ll be remembered as one of UNH’s most famous community members.”

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