In Memory: Professor Emeritus Robert N. Wells, Jr., P’92, GP’23 & ’25

Dear Laurentian community,

St. Lawrence University has lost a cherished family member.

Emeritus Munsil Professor of Government Bob Wells passed away on Friday, December 10, at the age of 88. He taught at St. Lawrence for more than 45 years, and was a strong advocate for education, a vital link between the University and Akwesasne (St. Regis) Mohawk communities, and served three terms as mayor of Canton.

For many Laurentians, Bob epitomized the curiosity and heart of St. Lawrence. His scholarly work in the field of government inspired his pursuit of connections—both within and beyond familiar social circles. He believed our respectful interactions could strengthen the communal bonds that define us. Bob proved this to be true—so often—that generations of students and colleagues adopted this same belief.

At the University of Michigan, he majored in history and political science—with a particular interest in international relations and U.S. foreign policy. He earned 3 degrees: B.A. in 1956, M.A. in 1963 and Ph. D. in 1969. It was in Ann Arbor that he met his wife, Patricia.

Bob began teaching government courses at St. Lawrence in 1965. After his promotion to full professor in 1977, he was named the Munsil Professor of Government in 1983. He served as chair of his department, as the academic dean for four years, then, after returning to the classroom, retired as professor emeritus in 1999. Bob remained a faculty member, teaching part time until 2011.

At St. Lawrence, Bob taught more than 20 unique courses, ran several institutes and workshops, was a prolific writer of books, articles, and papers, and wrote and secured more than 20 grants, many funding educational opportunities for Native American students. He wrote the first Higher Education Opportunity Program grant for St. Lawrence and served as the University’s inaugural director of the program.

Throughout his career, Bob led several off-campus student trips to Europe, Asia, and Australia. In 1995, he was selected as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. St. Lawrence recognized his excellence in teaching with the J. Calvin Keene Faculty Award, the Outstanding Faculty Award, the Owen D. Young Outstanding Faculty Award, and others.

Bob found particular meaning in his work and partnership with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. He was recognized in 1983 by the United South and Eastern Tribes for his long-standing contributions in helping the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe through the development of the Akwesasne Library, the Operation K Tutoring Program, and the first Upward Bound Program through St. Lawrence. 

His commitment to the Canton community included his multiple terms as mayor of Canton and his position on the Canton Central School Board. Bob worked closely with his longtime colleague, Peter Van de Water, to establish the Canton Community Fund in 2000. An avid Rotarian, he was awarded the Paul Harris Humanitarian Award by the Canton Rotary Club. Bob was also recognized by the Canton Lions Club with a Community Service and Leadership Award, by the Canton VFW Post with a Community Service Award, and was given the Outstanding Citizen Award by the Canton Chamber of Commerce. 

On and off campus, Bob was known as a deeply caring and passionate educator with an infectious laugh. He inspired students, encouraging them to nurture their creativity—always with the aim of being exemplary citizens. Many will remember his beaming smile and neighborly wave as he walked or rode his bicycle around campus and the village of Canton.

Bob was also devoted to his family, including Patricia, his wife of 61 years, and his children, Cynthia, Gretchen, and Chris ’92, P’23 & ’25, the head coach of the St. Lawrence Skating Saints women’s hockey team.

After a private ceremony for family, a celebration of his life will be planned for 2022 in Canton. Those wishing to honor Bob with a memorial donation may give to the Robert N. Wells Scholarship Fund at St. Lawrence University, the Canton Community Fund, or a charity of one’s choice.

As one Laurentian family, we honor our friend, mentor, and colleague Bob Wells. We are forever grateful to him for helping shape this University, our community, and each of us, too.

Please celebrate Bob Wells’ life and work by sharing your memories of him on the St. Lawrence University website. Here, you can read the memories shared by others.

Kate Morris
December 14, 2021