MSU mourns the loss of Robert Wolverton, longtime faculty member and administrator

Contact: James Carskadon

Mark Keenum presents Robert Wolverton with a painting next to a marker for the rotunda named in Wolverton's honor.
MSU President Mark E. Keenum presents Robert E. “Bob” Wolverton, Sr. with a painting of Old Main Academic Center following the ribbon cutting for the building in 2017. The rotunda in the building was named in Wolverton’s honor. (MSU file photo)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University is mourning the loss of a campus icon, Robert E. “Bob” Wolverton, who passed away Dec. 15 at the age of 98.

A studio portrait of Robert E. "Bob" Wolverton
Robert E. "Bob" Wolverton, Sr. (MSU file photo)

Wolverton’s approximately 70-year career in education included more than 40 years at MSU, where he served as a professor of classics and in several administrative roles. He first joined the university in 1977 as vice president for academic affairs and retired from full-time teaching in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures in the summer of 2020 at the age of 94.

“Dr. Wolverton was a true treasure at Mississippi State,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum. “His vision, drive and leadership on so many fronts were an inspiration to the university community. He was committed to MSU’s successful efforts to earn a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and he was a calm and respected voice in the Robert Holland Faculty Senate. Most of all, I counted Dr. Wolverton as my friend and mentor. For him, I hope Heaven is an opportunity to debate and converse with Sophocles and Plato – and to do so in their native ancient Greek language.”

An Indiana native, Wolverton is preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Margaret “Peggy” Wolverton. The Wolvertons are survived by their four children, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Bob Wolverton was involved in several organizations within the Starkville community, including Starkville Community Theatre, Starkville Public Library, Starkville Friends of the Library and the Starkville-MSU Symphony Association, among others.

Among Wolverton’s many honors from MSU, he was named a John Grisham Master Teacher, the university’s highest honor given for excellence in classroom instruction. He was honored with the MSU Alumni Association Faculty Achievement Award and College of Arts and Sciences Humanist Award. In 2014, the College of Arts and Sciences created the Robert E. Wolverton Legacy Award to recognize individuals who have made long-term contributions to the college and advocated the ideals of liberal arts education. In 2015, MSU announced that the rotunda in Old Main Academic Center would be named in his honor.

Wolverton was instrumental in MSU’s 40-year effort to obtain a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s most prestigious honor society. He worked as an administrator and faculty member to address issues and pave the way for the honor society to award a chapter. He was also involved in Society of Scholars, MSU’s precursor to a Phi Beta Kappa chapter that maintained parallel admission standards. On Aug. 3, 2018, MSU was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, just one day before Wolverton’s 93rd birthday.

In addition to serving as vice president of academic affairs, Wolverton has served as a department head and professor at MSU, as well as president of the Robert Holland Faculty Senate. Wolverton holds a bachelor’s degree in classics from Hanover (Indiana) College, a master’s from the University of Michigan, and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina. He was on the faculty at the University of Georgia, and Tufts and Florida State universities, and served as president of Mount St. Jospeh College in Cincinnati from 1972 until he came to MSU in 1977.

Wolverton maintained his enthusiasm for teaching classics well into his 90s, inspiring generations of Bulldogs through the works of Homer, Plato, Cicero, Sophocles and many other figures of ancient Greece and Rome. Upon his retirement, he credited the students for providing joy in his career and being a source of inspiration, noting that they “keep all of us pretty young.”

A slide show of Wolverton’s time at MSU may be viewed at