Bob Lawrence, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science, passed away Oct. 8 at the age of 91. Those who knew the longtime Colorado State University professor said he was an inspiring figure, a powerful voice in political science — and a dear friend and mentor.
Lawrence’s footprints linger within the halls of the Clark Building and in the lives of those he taught. He was a beloved pillar of the CSU community and left a legacy.
“Bob Lawrence was a truly special professor and important mentor to me,” said President Amy Parsons, who in 2010 established the Bob and Elaine Lawrence Gateway to Law School Scholarship, an award which assists CSU students with college expenses and the process of applying to law school. “Dr. Lawrence was the professor for my freshman seminar, a course on global military politics. His enthusiasm for the subject was contagious, and every student was engaged in the discussion. I know I’m just one of so many students he went on to mentor not just through college, but for life. We stayed in touch through the decades and right up to the weeks before he passed away.”
She continued: “I will always be grateful for Bob’s presence in my life. He was one of the most humble, thoughtful, smart, measured and dedicated people I’ve known. I was lucky enough to be one of his students, and I will be forever grateful for that privilege.”
Lawrence is remembered as one of the department’s most popular teachers — serving as a former faculty sponsor for the ROTC program on campus, and for many years, as CSU’s Pre-Law adviser. Students from decades past stayed connected with him — a sign of the impact he had on generations of students. He received the department’s Outstanding Teacher Award, the College of Liberal Arts’ Stern Award for Teaching and the campuswide Lory Award for Excellence in Teaching.
He taught at CSU for 35 years before retiring in 2006.
The current chair of the Department of Political Science, Bob Duffy, remembers the kindness Lawrence showed him when he first started at CSU.
“He and (his wife) Elaine invited me to their home for a meal while I was in town house hunting. It was a very nice gesture that made me feel very good about accepting the CSU offer. When I became chair, he was also supportive and complimentary,” said Duffy.
While Lawrence joined the CSU Department of Political Science in 1971, his distinguished academic and professional career was already in motion. After receiving his B.S. in journalism at Kansas State University in 1954, he served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, reaching the rank of first lieutenant with the 326th Fighter Squadron. He then earned an M.A. (1959) and a Ph.D. (1962) in political science from the University of Kansas. Lawrence was a research associate at both the Hudson Institute and Stanford Research Institute and served as a political science faculty member at both Texas Tech University and the University of Arizona.
After joining CSU in 1971, Lawrence was promoted to the rank of professor in 1973. For more than a decade, he held an unusual joint appointment at both CSU and the University of Colorado — teaching classes at CSU in the morning and at CU in the afternoon.
A lengthy list of scholarly books, textbooks, scholarly articles, book chapters, monographs, and studies followed as Lawrence became well known in the region and nationally as an expert on military, strategic, diplomatic, and other topics of acute interest during the Cold War period. Over the years, media outlets frequently relied on his expertise on national security matters.
Two CSU scholarships have been established in in his honor, The Bob and Elaine Lawrence Gateway to Law School Scholarship and the Keller and Lawrence Scholarship for Students in the Honors Program.
When he was no longer in a classroom filled with college students, Lawrence’s teaching continued well into his retirement. He was an active member of the Rotary Club of Fort Collins — leading the Rotary History and Current Events Fellowship for 19 years. He coordinated monthly discussions on a wide range of topics, from the history of civil rights in the U.S. to the war in Ukraine.
A constant and effortless mentor, Lawrence took a special interest in Professor Peter Harris — who joined the CSU faculty over a decade after his retirement.
He was generous with his time, providing comments on Harris’ work, helping coordinate events, meeting with Harris’ students, asking after his family, and always offering wise counsel.
“Bob was an inspiring figure. He was generous with his time and gave me valuable mentorship, support and encouragement. I considered him a friend and will miss him,” said Harris.
He recalled one of his favorite memories with Lawrence — watching the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels perform over Fossil Creek Reservoir in October 2021.
“When we talked shop, Bob and I tended to focus on two topics most of all: U.S.-China relations and nuclear weapons,” said Harris.
As part of Lawrence’s personal commitment to fostering a strong and productive U.S.-China relationship, he arranged for the Department of Political Science to host Tom Tang from Liaoning University in 2016. “His example of promoting international cooperation – not just among leaders, but among ordinary citizens and academics, too – is one we can all learn from,” said Harris.
“Bob had a big impact on me. One thing he demonstrated is that excellent teaching and mentorship can go hand in hand with high-quality and policy-relevant research. He lived and breathed CSU’s land-grant mission, and I can think of no better role model. He enriched the lives of generations of students,” Harris said.
In his obituary, Lawrence’s daughters suggest the best way to honor their father is “by questioning authority, visiting a national park, cheering on your favorite college team, looking west toward Longs Peak, watching the movie ‘Oppenheimer,’ reading the Constitution, listening to Blue Moon, staying engaged (democracy is not a spectator sport), taking a hike, voting and giving back.”
Should friends desire, contributions may be sent to The Bob and Elaine Lawrence Gateway to Law School Scholarship or the Food Bank for Larimer County. There will be an open house honoring Lawrence’s remarkable life from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29. Please contact the family for more information.