Dr. Robert Pike is remembered by his former students as an “incredible person.”
Pike, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of sociology, is the first person to pass away from complications related to COVID-19 in the Kingston region. He died Saturday, Jan. 9, leaving behind two children and several grandchildren. He was 83.
Raised in England, he graduated from the London School of Economics with a BA in economics and sociology in 1961 and a master’s degree. He then completed the first-ever PhD in sociology from the Australian National University.
He joined the faculty at Queen’s in 1969 and stayed until his retirement in 2002. Pike was the head of the Department of sociology for 11 years, where he developed the field of study into an independent discipline at the University.
During his time at Queen’s, he connected with many students, including Deborah Harrison who graduated in 1972.
“It was 1970 when I met Bob—that was a while ago,” Harrison told The Journal. “I was probably on the way to becoming a married woman who would mostly be a mother. I didn’t see my career as this thing ahead of me. My first encounter at Queen’s was Bob, the Undergraduate Advisor.”
Though Harrison said he wasn’t impressed with her grades, his attitude made her want to prove him wrong by excelling in his class.
“I showed up for class every week. It was a wonderful class. He never got through his lecture notes because he was a very engaging, charming lecturer,” Harrison said. “Some of us would go with him to the coffee place on the corner of Division and campus; we developed a rapport.”
By the end of the semester, she had earned the highest grade.
“He was probably the first person who made me realize that post-secondary education was about learning to find your own voice and do your own work,” she said.
“He had all kinds of patience for you if you went to his office. He drew you out and took an interest. He invited me and my boyfriend over for supper which I just thought was the grandest thing. He got me into graduate school. We stayed lifelong friends. We had the same sense of humour. We wrote letters to each other all our lives.”
Harrison called him a “very genuine” person and a “team player” who was involved with important gender and anti-racism innovations in the department.
“He believed in me at a crucial time in my life, when I could have gone in either direction,” Harrison said. “The direction I went in, largely because of Bob’s influence, was that I went to graduate school and became a sociologist.”
She said the fact that she was female made it more remarkable because, at the time, women weren’t encouraged to find their own voices.
“You don’t realize, when you’re that age, how chance encounters can make a lasting impact on your life. You just don’t realize how important they are. The accident of my having Bob as a professor and having him go that extra mile—to be generous, to encourage me, to encourage my work—made such a crucial difference.”
“It was largely because of Bob that my experience at Queen’s was so important. It made a huge difference to my life,” Harrison said. “He was definitely an incredible person in my life.”
Professor Emeritus of sociology Dr. Vince Sacco also spoke highly about Pike. Sacco was hired into the department while Pike was still working as the department’s head. He said Pike and his wife, Faye, were “always welcoming.”
“I remember when I came on the job interview, Bob had offered me a room at his house, which I have never heard of a department head doing before or since,” Sacco wrote in a statement to The Journal.
Faye Pike passed away in 2017.
“[T]hey were always having people over to their home and were always as helpful as they could be with new faculty or with people experiencing difficulties beyond their professional commitments.”
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This article has been updated to reflect the accurate age of Dr. Pike at the time of his passing.
The Journal regrets the error
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