Richard Duncan Sears
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Richard Duncan Sears
  • March 22, 1934 - September 27, 2017
  • Winston Salem, North Carolina

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Richard Duncan Sears, professor emeritus of political science at Wake Forest University, passed away on September 27th at the age of 83, after a short stay at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Born in New Milford, CT, Richard was the son of Henry Franklin and Marion McGann Sears, both educators active in social causes. Richard grew up in Massachusetts and New Orleans, and spent his adult life in North Carolina, but he always regarded his family farm in Hawley, Massachusetts as his true home. He spent most of his summers in Hawley, and his annual visits cultivated an enduring love of nature, the environment, John Deere tractors, and the Red Sox. Richard didn't immediately come to politics and wasn't sure which path to take after high school. Much later, with his typical understated humor, he once listed his employment history as "carpenter, logger, pickle processor, chicken plucker, and faculty member at Wake Forest University."

After a brief stint at Bowdoin College, he enlisted in the US Army and was stationed in Hawaii and Korea. Upon his return, he enrolled at Clark University and later pursued his post-graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts and Indiana University. There he met his future wife, who later confided that she knew he was "the one" when he stopped to pet a cat on their first date. Despite the stark difference in height- she was a diminutive 5'1" to his 6'6"-they had much in common, including a mutual love of animals. They married in 1962 and enjoyed 55 years of marriage filled with love, good humor, and respect. Richard was a loving and supportive father to their three daughters and treasured time with his grandchildren and granddogs.

Richard accepted a position teaching Political Science at Wake Forest University in 1964, and he remained there until his retirement in 2002. He was instrumental in founding the International Studies Department at Wake Forest, which expanded student opportunities abroad, particularly to East Asia; he served as director of the department from 1986 to 1999. His academic interests ranged from the works of Thucydides to international politics. Richard's class on the Vietnam period became a student favorite and one he enjoyed teaching beyond his retirement. Richard was well-respected by students and colleagues for his even temper and for his ability to bring people together and engage them in civil discourse despite their differences. He was a regular faculty participant in the Great Decision Series at Wake Forest, a national foreign policy education program open to the public. Richard was an active member of the Torch Club in Winston-Salem.

Community service was an integral part of Richard's life. He volunteered for numerous organizations including St Paul's Episcopal Church, The Samaritan Inn, and the Shepherd's Center. He contributed greatly to environmental causes through his service with the Piedmont Conservation Voters and St. Paul's Earth Stewardship committee. In 2001, he received the Donald O. Schoonmaker Faculty Award for Community Service. Richard always believed in "doing the right thing" which was reflected in his actions, caring first for his father and then for his wife, both of whom struggled with dementia. He treated them with the kindness, gentleness, and good humor with which he treated everyone he encountered. Richard loved discussing politics and current events over a cold beer on the porch. He had friends from both sides of the political spectrum, and he never let politics get in the way of a good friendship. Richard is survived by his wife Ilene; daughter Kathryn and her husband Tom, his caregivers over the last year; daughter Rebecca and her husband Tony; daughter Elizabeth and her husband Ryan; grandchildren Alden, Frank, Jacob, Malcolm and Ray; brother John; nephews Will and Jack; cousins Ann, Trina, Paul, Sarah, John, and Bill; and many wonderful friends, including his lifelong friends Clay and Sibby Rich, Rodney and Marianne Meyer, Meyressa Schoonmaker and Johnny Carroll, Jack and Martha Fleer, and, during his recent ill health, his caregiver and supportive friend Kimberly Jackson. A funeral to celebrate Richard's life will be held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on December 2, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. with a reception to follow. His ashes will be buried in Pudding Hollow Cemetery in Hawley, Massachusetts. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made in Richard's memory to the Shepherd's Center of Winston-Salem.