Yale University

In Memoriam

Bob Sexton

Bob Sexton
1964 graduation

Bob Sexton died of cancer on August 26, 2010.

Below are the following remembrances:

Memorials may be made to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington, KY 40588.

Longtime Kentucky education expert Robert Sexton dies

Lexington Herald-Leader
August 28, 2010

Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a major force for education in Kentucky for 30 years, died Thursday night.

Sexton, who lived in Lexington, had been battling cancer since last year, although a co-worker said Friday that Sexton's death was unexpected.

A Louisville native, Sexton had headed the Prichard Committee since its creation in 1983. He also had been deputy director of the Kentucky Council on Higher Education, now known as the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, and was an administrator at the University of Kentucky and a professor of history.


Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Obituary: August 27, 2010

SEXTON Dr. Robert Fenimore, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a long-respected education advocate, died Thursday evening, August 26, 2010, at the University of Kentucky Medical Center following a struggle with cancer.

 He was born to Claude F. Sexton and Jane W. Sexton on January 13, 1942. His passing is a deep loss not only to his family and friends, but to generations of children who did not know him and may not hear of him. Over 34 years, his work grew to include not only Kentucky schools, but the nation's. He believed passionately that all children could learn at high levels and that all parents could be empowered to know about and help their children's teachers and schools.

He deeply respected the teaching profession and believed that teachers could also reach high levels on behalf of their students. He advocated for their respect among the professions and for higher salaries. He spent most of his career building the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an unusual and exceptional non-profit organization that reached around the Commonwealth to include parents and grandparents, educators, policy analysts, and politicians in strong organized efforts to improve Kentucky schools and universities.

He was a civil, dedicated man who listened to all opinions, analyzed all available information, and came forward with a vision, looking for paths to larger lives for the people of his beloved state. His persistence and passion for better education was in play until the moment of his passing.

He was interested in and uplifted by experiences and friends from many arenas: the arts, the literary community, the legal profession, the culinary world, the world of news and journalism, and all things related to public policy, politics and history. He, with his wife Pam and children and friends, linked themselves to nature ― to forests and birds, rivers, boats and fishing, hiking and exploring, especially the fascinating corners of Kentucky and Wyoming (Pam's native home), as well as the broader world of the United States and Europe. He was enamored with fly-fishing and many of the country's great trout streams. Much of his deepest thinking was accomplished while standing in the midst of a cold river, wearing his waders, fly rod in hand.

With great joy and attention, he collected the art of a diverse group of Kentucky artists and surrounded himself in home and office by their work and called many of them friends. He loved music, especially spirituals and Kentucky traditional and Bluegrass music, and actors and dancers of all stripes. He was avid reader of policy, history, well-crafted fiction, poetry, and enthusiastically talked about literature.

He is survived by his 94-year-old mother Jane W. Sexton of Lexington; his wife of 25 years, Pamela Papka Sexton; one daughter, Rebecka Byrne Sexton of Chicago; one son, Robert Byrne Sexton, of San Jose, CA; three step-children, Ouita Papka Michel (Chris) of Midway; Paige Papka Richardson of Lexington; and Perry Aaron Papka of Frankfort; two granddaughters, Willa Dru Michel and Lily Kathryn Schade; and the mother of his children, Kathryn Johansson of Chicago.

Along with family, he is survived by a close circle of beloved friends and caretakers, including three long-time brothers-in-spirit, Bob Lamson of Seattle, Hugh Straley of Seattle, and Russ Edgerton of Washington D.C. His work was made possible by the loyal and dedicated staff of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who became his extended family. Pam and all of Bob's children are grateful to them as well as too the large team of caring doctors and nurses who helped make his last year possible.

A native of Louisville, Bob was a member of the first graduating class of Waggener High School, the first valedictorian and student body president. He held a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and had been awarded honorary degrees from Berea College, Georgetown College, Bellarmine University, and Eastern Kentucky University.

Bob's many civic contributions included serving as a member of the board that created the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and on the boards of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center and the New Opportunity School for Women. He was a founder of the Kentucky's Governor's Scholars Program and of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues. His national board service included Editorial Projects in Education (publishers of Education Week and Teacher Magazine), the Education Trust, the Center for Teaching Quality, the Education Commission of the States, and the American Association for Higher Education. He also served on advisory groups for several national foundations.

A memorial service and tribute to Bob's life and career is planned for Oct 16, 2010. Memorials may be made to the Robert F. Sexton Legacy Fund, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington, KY 40588.


Governor Breshear's remarks

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Aug. 27, 2010) — "Jane and I were very sad to learn of Bob Sexton's passing. I have known Bob for years, and working with him on the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence gave me the opportunity to see firsthand how deeply he valued Kentucky and how committed he was to improving education for all our students. His passing leaves an enormous void in our state.

"Many Kentuckians may not realize the revolutionary impact Bob had on shaping our state's education practices, but it is not an exaggeration to say that Bob Sexton has influenced and enriched the education experience for generations of students. Our thoughts and prayers remain with his wife Pam and their family.

"The most fitting memorial to Bob Sexton will be for us to continue to build on the enduring legacy of quality education he has left us."


Robert Sexton's Lasting Legacy

Education advocate changed state

Lexington Herald-Leader
August 31, 2010

Robert F. Sexton brought Kentuckians something we crave but rarely receive outside the athletic arena: national recognition and acclaim.

Mr. Sexton, who died last week after giving cancer a hard fight, was both a creator and messenger of the dramatic strides Kentucky made to improve education.

In August 1983, he became executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a trailblazing citizens group that took the lead in creating and voicing demand for better schools.

More than anyone, Mr. Sexton and the Prichard Committee set the stage for Kentucky's decade of progress in the 1990s.

During that period, the legislature reformed every level of education, equalized funding between rich and poor school districts, raised standards, and dedicated billions of new dollars to education.

This feat was perhaps better appreciated outside than within the state, and Mr. Sexton was in demand around the country to tell the story.

Whether speaking to a seminar at Harvard about the Kentucky Education Reform Act or a legislative committee about a bill, he was a plainspoken and eloquent advocate for his home state and education. (And, amazingly, he never ever succumbed to speaking education jargon.)

Mr. Sexton was unpretentious. He loved fly-fishing and had unerring political instincts. His keen intellect and perspective as an historian may explain why he was able for almost 30 years to work in the midst of Frankfort's political fray while somehow also staying above the fray.

He had every reason to feel satisfied with his life's work, but we know he was not satisfied with Kentucky's progress. He despaired that any new money for public schools in the last decade was eaten up by escalating employee health care costs and that school funding had again fallen behind competitor states.

Mr. Sexton, who remained passionate and engaged always, was especially passionate about the need to improve and elevate teaching.

Kentucky is quantifiably better off because of the changes Mr. Sexton helped bring about. As just one indicator, young Kentuckians now graduate from high school at a rate higher than the national average ― a sea change in a state that not too long ago envisioned no future beyond farm fields, factories and mines for most of its young people.

Mr. Sexton inspired us to raise our sights as parents, educators, and as a state.

He leaves an impressive legacy. The Prichard committee, whose board is made up of 100 volunteers, employs about 20 people and receives substantial foundation support to watchdog public education and advocate for improvements.

In a huge act of civic capacity-building, the Prichard Committee under Mr. Sexton has trained 1,700 Kentucky parents to be education advocates in their communities.

Their accomplishments, and the accomplishments of Kentuckians who will be better educated because of Mr. Sexton's dedication, will be proud and lasting legacies indeed.


Article: Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader

University of Kentucky to archive papers of education advocate Robert Sexton '64

November 19, 2013

In 1983, a college professor named Robert Sexton took the helm of a small advocacy group aimed at improving Kentucky's schools.

Under Sexton's leadership, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence became a nationally known organization that pushed huge changes at every level of education, including the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990 and the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act seven years later.

The work — papers, studies, briefs, speeches, letters, videos — of Sexton and the Prichard Committee to push those changes will now be open to scholars and future advocates as part of the University of Kentucky Special Collections. On Wednesday, UK President Eli Capilouto and others will speak at an event to accept both sets of papers and celebrate both legacies.

"This is a man who dedicated his whole life to making sure all the kids in the commonwealth got a great education," said Stu Silberman, who became the Prichard executive director after Sexton's death in 2010. "There were a lot of blood, sweat and tears that we want to make sure are never lost."

Terry Birdwhistell, dean of UK Libraries, said UK has always been interested in all levels of education, and in archiving collections that document public policy in the state.

"This is one of the best examples nationally of something that combines those two research interests," Birdwhistell said. "Public policy experts and scholars over time will find these collections extremely valuable in trying to track progressive education in the last part of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century."

The Prichard Committee collection will grow over time, because the group will continue donating its papers.

"This fits in with what we're trying to do in special collections, and we're so pleased they chose the University of Kentucky to do this for them," Birdwhistell said.

Deirdre Scaggs, associate dean of Special Collections, said the two collections will start out with between 150 and 200 large boxes of materials. The Sexton papers will be available this spring, but the Prichard papers need to be organized and archived.

In addition to being the state's premier education policy expert, Sexton helped found the Kentucky Governor's Scholars Program, the Kentucky Center for Public Issues, the Commonwealth Institute for Teachers and the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, a group that helps parents become more active in education. He was founder and president of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues, and he chaired the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. He authored the 2004 book Mobilizing Citizens for Better Schools.

Wednesday's dedication of the papers will be followed Thursday with a Prichard Committee meeting on a topic that Sexton never stopped advocating for: adequate funding for Kentucky's schools.

"We're going to be shining a light on our current funding conditions for our schools, and trying to mobilize people to get some new revenue in this state," Silberman said. "Bob would be very much involved in the push for adequate funding for our schools."

Remembrance by John Hunsaker '64

Bobby and I first met in 1960 as freshmen at Yale and shared some youthful shenanigans best left to history, which was his passion. Many mutual friends were part of Frosh football (we both played a little) and in Beta Theta Pi. The core of those shortest, gladdest years of life emphasized public service. Imbued with those values arising from his Louisville roots, Bob intensified that impulse as an undergraduate and, still a young man, epitomized the essence of dedication to the commonweal, most notably by midwifing and nurturing the Prichard Committee with its good works.

Although our paths crossed rarely since those days, I shall remember affectionately his ready smile, his quiet, thoughtful counsel, and his unrelenting quest to strengthen learning for all. Applauding his life well lived, let us look to him in gratitude as a model for ourselves. I bid his spirit Godspeed in the next realm, whose souls will be better educated by his arrival. May his loved ones be at peace.


Remembrance by Hugh Straley '64

Bob Lamson and I remained friends with Bob, aka Bobby, since we roomed together in Vanderbilt in 1960, 50 years ago. Our families were close when Bob and his first wife , Kitty, lived in Seattle when we three were getting our doctorates. Bob found a permanent home in Lexington where he founded and developed the Pritchard Commission. He and Pam, his widow and soulmate, and we exchanged visits over the years in Seattle and Lexington.

I was privileged to be part of his struggle with cancer over the last two years, as friend and advisor. Bob confronted the disease with the same courage, grace, persistence, and stubbornness that he brought to all the challenges of his life, from football to education reform. He was an inspiration in these last months as he rode the emotional roller coaster of chemo, surgery, and radiation with remissions and relapses. He never complained. Rather, through it all, he was determined to live as well as he possibly could.

In the end, he died suddenly of unforeseen complications, unable to finish some important work or say the goodbyes to so many that he loved. He knew he had accomplished good things yet wanted to do so much more. He was not ready to die but did accept the inevitable. The love from Pam, his children, his colleagues, and many friends sustained him during the struggle. He told me a month ago that despite all that had happened to him, he knew he was a very lucky man.

If any of his Yale friends have any remembrances of Bob and can send them to me they will be shared with his family and all who attend. This will be a celebration of the life of a noble man and good friend. I hope that some of you who are nearby can come.


Remembrance by Bob Lamson '64

Bobby was an inspiration to me, and to so many others. He humbly devoted his life to the public good and guided the Prichard Committee with vision, dedication and persistence through many difficult periods, always with an upbeat attitude. He and the Prichard Committee were hugely successful in fundamental and significant educational reform in Kentucky.

Personally, we were as brothers. We shared not only our Yale experience as roommates but, together with Hugh Straley, our years in graduate school at the University of Washington as well. From there forward the three of us and our families remained very close, and although he and family were in Kentucky and I and family in Seattle we managed to get together frequently.

We had many wonderful experiences together over the years, and his passing leaves a huge hole our lives. We share in the inescapable pain of his family at this time, but also feel privileged to have shared much of the wonderful, fulfilling life of a man who truly cared.


Remembrance by Tony Lee '64

What a privilege to read all these wonderful tributes. I knew Bobby from freshman year and at Beta Theta Pi, but my fondest memories (assuming my memory still serves me) were on the rugby field senior year, playing for the B Team. Bobby was the Fly Half, Hugh Straley was Mister Inside AND Mister Outside, and I was Mister Left Behind. We played hard, usually lost, but had a lot of fun.