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In Memoriam: Dr. Robert F. Banks (1936 - 2021)

August 13, 2021

Dr. Robert Banks

The Madison community recently received the sad news that Dr. Robert F. Banks, MSU's former Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Academic Human Resources, and former professor, advisor, and Dean of James Madison College, passed away on July 22nd. 

Dr. Robert F. Banks enjoyed a long career, with increasing responsibilities, at Michigan State University. Instrumental in the early formation of the college, he began as a faculty member, served as JMC's second Dean (from 1971 - 1979), and was brought back to serve as Acting Dean from 1989-1990. He joined MSU's central administration in 1979. Dr. Banks' daughter Sarah Banks graduated from James Madison College in 1995 with an International Relations degree. To read Dr. Banks' obituary or send a message to his family (including wife Mrs. Clare Banks), please feel free to do so here

Members of the Madison community have been reaching out to share a number of warm memories about Dr. Banks' time at MSU and his impact on James Madison College:


Terry Sullivan, Ph.D. (Socio-Econ ’70; Former President, University of Virginia): “Bob was my undergraduate advisor. He was generous with his time, witty, and knowledgeable on a whole range of subjects from national economic accounts to jazz. He was one of a kind.”

Professor Emeritus Rod Phillips: "Bob was a terrific guy and one of the most able administrators I've ever seen. He always gave me the impression that he was watching out for me from his perch in the Admin Building, and I think he made a lot of people feel that way."

Dixie Platt (JMC’s Former Director of Academic and Student Affairs): "When I was seeking employment at Michigan State University, Bob took a chance and hired me as his administrative assistant. That post opened up a whole career path I did not know I could follow; he truly became my mentor. Bob’s many titles honor his many accomplishments at MSU. While well-deserved, they do not describe the very down-to-earth man that Bob was. In my memory, he is always moving: whistling as he walked down the Case Hall corridor on his way to another day in the life of the brand-new James Madison College, or conducting faculty meetings peppered with expressions such as “one would suppose,”  or even listening carefully to suggestions that probably would not be practical, even if implemented. In those founding years, Bob touched all the lives of faculty, staff, students, and even Case Hall employees (!) at this special residential college at MSU."  

Lou Hirsh (JMC's Former Assistant to the Dean for Admissions, 1975-1983): "What a remarkable man he was! Bob was special; he was the only boss who truly transformed me. He had a miraculous gift for discovering talents in people that they never knew they had. It was Bob's uncanny gift for hiring, leading, and inspiring JMC's magnificent faculty and staff that made the college's founding vision endure all these years. Although he used to give a lot of credit to his mentor, Herb Garfinkel, the truth is that James Madison College was, and is, also indebted to Bob's vision and incredible leadership. Although they may not realize it, thousands of Madison graduates are the beneficiaries of what this wonderful man accomplished." 

Brian Burd (JMCD ‘71): “As a member of the Founding Class my first impression of Dean Banks was of an erudite, pipe-smoking gentleman. Many of us actually went out and bought pipes and tobacco to emulate him. During my graduation week (a bit late but I got there after working the late shift at Oldsmobile while taking a full load) he summoned me to his office. I didn't know what was up. He said he knew my transcript didn't look great (the first two years were middling at best), but he also knew that I had turned my personal life, and academic life, around. As a result he said he would personally write a recommendation to any grad school I wanted to attend. I was stunned and very grateful. Dr. Bank's patience, forgiveness, and understanding has been an uplifting memory for me over the last 50 years. I can never forget that he trusted and believed in my potential. No lectures or grades were ever more valuable and meaningful to me. He was a wonderful man.”