Robert Frederick Banks

January 18, 1936July 22, 2021

Robert F. (Bob) Banks, 85, of East Lansing, Michigan, passed away on July 22, 2021. He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, colleague, mentor, and friend.

Robert was born on January 18, 1936, in Battle Creek, Michigan, to Guy and Helen Banks, but soon after the family moved to Montclair, New Jersey. A graduate of Montclair High School, he received a B.A. in Economics from Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in Labor Economics from The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). While attending the LSE in London, he met his future wife, Clare; they married in 1963. He was a member of the LSE faculty from 1963 until 1967, when he received a job offer from Michigan State University (MSU) and they moved to East Lansing. Together, they raised three children, Justin, Rachel, and Sarah.

Robert had a long and distinguished 40-year career at MSU. He came to MSU as a joint faculty member in the School of Labor and Industrial Relations and the newly formed James Madison College (JMC). In 1971, he became Dean of James Madison College, a position he held until 1979. In 1979, Robert joined MSU's central administration serving in the Provost's Office in many capacities, including as Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Academic Human Resources, a position he held until retirement in 2007. After retiring, he was repeatedly enlisted to work on projects requiring his extensive experience and knowledge of MSU practices, policies, and procedures.

Robert was well-known for his commitment to diversity—to fair, equitable treatment of all faculty, students, and staff. He served on the Vice-Presidential Diversity Advisory Group and MSU Institutional Diversity in Action coordinators group. In 2007, he received the esteemed MSU Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Diversity in recognition for having, "continuously been a strong supporter of diversity efforts and programming at the University." He will be remembered most fondly by the Michigan State University community for his congenial, collegial spirit and especially by all faculty, students, and staff whom he encouraged to achieve their goals. At his retirement, the Provost's Office established The Robert F. Banks Award for Institutional Leadership. At the time, the MSU News Bulletin noted, "Banks' philosophies about teaching, learning, and leading by example have influenced and guided the lives of thousands of MSU faculty, staff, and students throughout the world." The award has received financial support from the Big Ten Academic Alliance and members of the MSU community. An endowment was also established at James Madison College as a tribute to Robert with a gift from a JMC graduate who "will never forget Dr. Banks' teaching, encouragement, and advice."

Robert was an ardent Jazz aficionado; his office walls displayed the great Jazz artists he admired. He was a longtime supporter of the MSU College of Music's distinguished Jazz Studies Program and the annual East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival. At his retirement, Robert "Bebop" Banks was celebrated in concert by the MSU College of Music's Professors of Jazz. He served as the Chair of the Advisory Board for the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival from 2012 until his death.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Clare, his three children, Justin (Estina) of Lansing, MI, Rachel of Washington, DC, and Sarah (Steve) of Plymouth, MI, two grandchildren, Carter and Emmagrace, and a cousin, Charles Stainback of Brooklyn, NY. He is predeceased by his parents and his sister, Margaret (Banks) Broughal of New York City, NY.

A memorial mass will be held on August 10th at 11:00 a.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing. A memorial celebration will take place at a later date.

Please do not send flowers.

Contributions in honor of Robert F. Banks may be made to:

The Robert F. and Clare M. Banks Endowment for Academic and Teaching Excellence in James Madison College, c/o James Madison College, Development Office, 329 South Case Hall, MSU, East Lansing, MI., 48825.

MSU's College of Music Jazz Studies Program, 203 Music Building, East Lansing, MI 48824-1005.

The East Lansing Summer Solstice Jazz Festival, City of East Lansing, 410 Abbot Road, East Lansing, MI. 48823.


  • Memorial Mass

    Tuesday, August 10, 2021


Robert Frederick Banks

have a memory or condolence to add?

Rolf Clackdoyle

September 14, 2021

Bob and my father, Garfield Clack, met in about 1960 or so when they were both students at LSE (London). My sister and I met him shortly after, when he sometimes came and babysat us! We moved around England and saw Bob and Clare (and their son Justin) from time to time over the following 5 years . When the two families moved to East Lansing and Ottawa (Canada) at about the same time, we saw them there too, but less and less often as the years went by, although Garfield and Bob apparently maintained a strong telephone dialog for decades. I don't think I actually saw Bob between Christmas 1968 and when he came with Clare to Garfield's "celebration of life" in 2014. Bob was _just_ the same as my childhood memory: such an easy-going, unassuming man, brilliant, with a quiet confidence and yet totally laid-back with a twinkle in his eye. I was very very sad to hear the news recently of his death - I had even been contemplating a surprise drop-in visit this year once covid restrictions allowed it. My condolences to Clare and the family (some of whom I enjoyed meeting for the first time during our wonderfully-hosted visit 5 years ago). Bob, your spirit is obviously still very much alive in the memory of many many people. And in mine too.

Ashleigh Jimenez

August 30, 2021

I cut Roberts hair for years and he was like a grandpa that I never had I wish I would’ve checked on you sooner and got to cut your hair and chat with you just one more time. Praying for your wife and children you were a great man

Frederick Headen

August 22, 2021

It was my good fortune that Dr. Banks was Dean of James Madison during my entire four years at the College. I must say I was quite in awe of him. He seemed at once scholarly, even aristocratic, yet approachable. Many years later, I had the honor of serving with him on a dean-search committee for the College. Our nearly two-year effort to select a new dean benefited greatly from his wise counsel, and I came to appreciate what a genuinely kind and decent gentleman he was. “Gentleman.” How seldom that word is used these days to describe someone, but that is how I will remember him: as a kind and decent gentleman.

I wish to offer my sincerest condolences and prayers to Mrs. Banks and her family.

Frederick Headen
JMCD, ‘78

Craig Atlas

August 22, 2021

My sincere condolences to your family!

I was a student in James Madison College at MSU. Dean Banks was my advisor around 1979. I still have a distinct memory of his appearance and voice. He always displayed a sincere concern for his students, both as a group and as individuals.

I went on to attend MSU's Master of Labor and Industrial Relations program, and then to practice labor and education law in New York State for over thirty years. I'm now transitioning to becoming an arbitrator and mediator. I'm just one of the many who was influenced by Bob Banks.


August 6, 2021

A good man in every sense, an humanitarian, a gentleman and a great man for his community and university. These are rare qualities, particularly when joined in the same person. They all describe my good and long-time friend, Robert Banks.

I first met Bob in the mid 1960s when we served together on the James Madison College founding committee. I quickly learned that he was thoroughly a man of conscience and would become the conscience of the university in so many, many ways. He always sought and did the "right thing" in the treatment of all people. He was the sought-after advisor for every major leader at MSU for the last half century. I worry how we will do without him.

I already miss him greatly and especially his friendship, and being able to seek his advice. This must be the case for hundreds, if not more, of those on which he left an indelible mark. I have heard it said that "no one is irreplaceable." Surely, those who have said this did not know Bob Banks.

Lorrie Dundon

August 4, 2021

I never had the pleasure of meeting Bob. The fact that Bob was a wonderful man does not surprise me. I have worked with his son Justin for 15 years or so and know he must've had a remarkable father because he has considerable patience and grace and is kind and courteous to everyone. My heartfelt sympathies to the Banks family.

Justin Grinnell

August 4, 2021

In January 2010, Bob's wife, Clare, gave me a call to help Bob with his fitness. I was just opening up my first training gym, so it was exciting to get the call for a new member. I never would have imagined that I would see Bob once a week, every week, for almost 11-years. I am so grateful and honored to have spent so much time talking with Bob. He was one of the most genuine, kind-hearted, intelligent, and non-judgemental people I have ever met. Bob made tremendous progress with his health and fitness during this time and rebounded in an amazing fashion from previous health issues. I admired Bob's continued commitment to train with me and do his homework as prescribed. I have never had a more committed client in my 20-years as a professional. I learned more from Bob than I was ever able to teach him. I will dearly miss our weekly conversations. Thank you for being a part of my life, Bob. It was an absolute honor.

Dixie Platt

August 2, 2021

Robert F. “Bob” Banks was a very special person in my life. At his passing, our thoughts and prayers are with Clare and the Banks’ family.
In 1968, when I was seeking employment at Michigan State University (where my husband DeWitt was then a lowly instructor), Bob took a chance and hired me as his administrative assistant. That post opened a whole career path I did not know I could follow. He became truly 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. Bob had a great sense of humor and he delighted in giving people nicknames (mine was “Miz Dixie”), but they were never harmful, but somehow would capture something good about the person. In those founding years, Bob touched all the lives of faculty, staff, students, and even Case Hall workers (!) at this special residential college at MSU.
Over the years Bob and Clare became couple friends with DeWitt & me. We sometimes traveled together to Toronto often in February or March just to sample the food and wares of a major city. On those jaunts, we four laughed a lot at each other’s stories. There are many tales that we will remember always. DeWitt & I will miss him.

Lou Hirsh

August 2, 2021

In the summer of 1975 Bob Banks interviewed me for the newly created position of “Assistant to the Dean for Admissions” at James Madison College of Michigan State University. While I’ve had other gifted bosses since then, 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. So while he astonished me with his mentoring, he also made me astonished at myself. I have never forgotten him, nor the times I was Bob and Clare’s guest at their house – especially those Christmas Eves when their generosity and hospitality were in full force. What a remarkable couple!

This, too: James Madison College was itself one of the most inspired ideas that ever emerged out of Michigan State University in particular and American higher education in general. While Bob would often modestly give a lot of the credit to Herb Garfinkle, Madison’s founding dean, in many ways it was Bob’s uncanny gift for hiring, leading, and inspiring its magnificent faculty and staff that made the College’s founding vision endure all these years. Although they may not realize it, thousands of Madison graduates are the beneficiaries of what this wonderful man accomplished.

Randal Robinson

July 29, 2021

Bob Banks was the friend of my youth and friend, too, of my advancing age. He was a kind, generous, reliable, and understanding friend, a guide at times when I needed help, and a model of sophisticated behavior. As I've looked back on my life in recent years, I've realized he was one of the most important people in it.
I met Bob in 1955, after I'd transferred to Washington and Lee University. With his support I joined the fraternity to which he belonged, and eventually he became a suite-mate and also my tutor in all that was urban, sophisticated, witty, and sane. He was gifted enough to help me appreciate even the wonders of progressive jazz and dedicated enough to arrange a trip to Richmond, where we spent the afternoon in the presence of Louis Armstrong.
Bob was also a funny guy. He could be clever, biting, and accepting all at the same time. One of the great prizes of my life is the nickname he gave me: he called me 'Grendel," and by that I became known to all.
Bob and I lost touch soon after W&L, but after he accepted a post at MSU, we got together again, and as we were eating lunch, he took from his billfold a picture. It showed a girl. He told me her name was Clare. "It's not a very good picture," he said, "and that's too bad, because she's a beautiful girl." It was a wonderful moment. I knew he'd soon have a family and he'd be sharing all the goodness I knew him to have for the most important of all human ends. Remembering that, I bring to my mind some sunlight in a very dark time.