Dear Pitzer College Community,

I am deeply saddened to share that beloved Pitzer founding faculty member and Research Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Robert Lee Munroe died on Monday, May 14, following an illness. He was 85.

Born in Baltimore, MD, Lee served in the US Army during the Korean War. He decided to study anthropology after coming across a book—The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and its Significance for Man—while waiting for a bus in Washington DC during a leave. He went on to earn his AB in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, and his PhD in social anthropology from Harvard University.

A specialist in cross-cultural human development, Lee was one of Pitzer’s 11 full-time founding faculty members who broke new ground in higher education in 1964 by forming a college in which faculty, students and administrators shared in the governance of their fledgling institution.

He taught full-time at Pitzer for more than 30 years and continued as a research professor after he retired from the classroom in 1995. He included Pitzer students in his scholarly work through his Research Apprenticeship program in which more than 30 undergraduates co-authored papers by collaborating in cross-cultural analyses. His courses at Pitzer included The Idea of Culture, Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology and The Culture of the Americans.

Lee and Ruth’s legacy lives on at Pitzer. In 2009, the College established the Ruth and Lee Munroe Center for Social Inquiry in honor of Lee and his late wife, Ruth Hagberg Munroe, who was a professor of psychology and a fellow founding faculty member. MCSI and The Ruth and Lee Munroe Laboratory for Cross-Cultural Research recognize Lee and Ruth’s commitment to teaching, intercultural studies and scholarship. The Lee Munroe Endowed Scholarship Fund provides support for students with financial need who are studying anthropology or a related field.

During his academic career, Lee received 30 grants, honors and awards, including several grants from the National Science Foundation. He authored more than 125 publications and was one of the founders of cross-cultural anthropology. In 1993, Lee was named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served as the president of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research, the president of the Society for Psychological Anthropology and board chair of The Frameworks Institute. In January 2017, he was selected as a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science in recognition of his “sustained and outstanding contributions to the advancement of psychological science.”

Since 2016, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Lee, who was also our next-door neighbor. When we moved to Claremont, he helped Suzanne and me feel at home. On my first day in this new city, he came over and introduced himself and we spoke for more than an hour sharing stories about the many friends we had in common. We were pleased to enjoy his company at various College gatherings and keenly felt his loss at not being able to come to the recent Pitzer Class of 1968 Reunion at the President’s Residence just a few weeks ago. For the Class of 1968 (and for many classes that followed them), Lee and Ruth were role models and committed teachers who guided them through their college years. All who met Lee felt his keen intellect, ageless curiosity and consummate kindness. We will miss him dearly.

A memorial for Lee is being planned and information will be forthcoming.


Melvin L. Oliver