President H. James Williams shares the sad news that former MSJ President, Dr. Robert E. Wolverton, passed away on December 15, 2023, at the age of 98.  

Dr. Wolverton

Mount Community:
With an abundance of humility and great admiration for the lives and contributions of the “Pantheon” of former Mount Presidents – on whose shoulders we stand, proudly – I write to share the sad news that former Mount President, Dr. Robert E. Wolverton, passed away on December 15, 2023, at the age of 98.   

An Indiana native, Dr. Wolverton earned an undergraduate degree from Hanover College, a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.  He launched his career in Academia with a focus on Latin language and literature, Classical Mythology, Ancient History, and Etymology. 


In the early 1970’s, a historical shift was taking place at the Mount.  Since its founding, in 1920, the Mount had been governed exclusively by Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati members, with only Sisters serving in the role of President.  In 1972, an independent Board of Trustees, comprised, predominantly, of lay persons, was created.  Simultaneously, the Mount sought a new President. 

While he served as an administrator and professor at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Wolverton was nominated for the open Presidency at the Mount.  Ultimately, during the Spring of 1972, he was selected to serve as the first lay person and first male President of the Institution.  He served admirably, with vision and commitment, until 1977, after which the Mount’s Board of Trustees recognized him with an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree. 

A focus of Dr. Wolverton’s leadership strategy was to enhance the visibility and brand awareness of the Mount.  His grassroots marketing efforts included becoming a member of the Cincinnati Rotary Club and West Side Kiwanis Club, as well as visiting stores throughout the region and talking to anyone who would listen to him discuss the Mount.  His involvement in the community eventually earned him a Key to the City of Cincinnati. 

On the national stage, Dr. Wolverton’s time at the Mount included hosting many high-profile and, often, controversial speakers on campus.  Notable individuals garnered media attention and drew crowds to the Mount, including David Brinkley, then-co-anchor on the national NBC Nightly News; Werner von Braun, the mastermind behind the German rocket program of World War II and eventual pioneer of rocket and space technology in the United States; the president of the National Organization of Women (N.O.W.); Ralph Nader, political activist and multi-time U.S. Presidential candidate; Chet Atkins and his Nashville Band; and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, among others.  These speakers and programs spurred civil discussions with broad viewpoints on this campus, solidifying the Mount’s stature as an institution of higher learning that embraces diversity of cultures and beliefs. 


Dr. Wolverton viewed fundraising as another primary part of his role.  His efforts resulted in the establishment of long-standing relationships between the Mount and area banks, support for the Mount’s championship women’s sports teams to travel and compete across the country, an endowed chair position in Nursing, and the launch of an annual gala to support student scholarships. 
Innovation in academics was likewise central to Dr. Wolverton’s strategy.  Following a needs-based assessment of the area, the University launched its Weekend College, with courses in business and education – the first of its kind in the region. 
In 1977, Dr. Wolverton departed the Mount and assumed the position of Vice President for Academic Affairs at Mississippi State University.  He remained at Mississippi State for 43 years, serving in a variety of administrative roles, while continuing to teach students the Classics as a classroom professor. 

By all accounts, Dr. Wolverton was a beloved member of the Mississippi State community – some have even referred to him as an “icon.”  He became the first recipient of the Mississippi State College of Arts and Sciences Legacy Award, an annual honor that now bears his name. In 2004, he was named a John Grisham Master Teacher, the highest teaching honor bestowed at Mississippi State.  The rotunda in the Old Main Academic Center on Mississippi State’s campus was named in his honor – an architectural feature that thousands of students pass daily on the way to and from their classes. 

In total, Dr. Wolverton was a faculty member and administrator in higher education for nearly 70 years.  In his biography, titled I Don’t Know Why, But… DEO DUCE, Dr. Wolverton described his presidency at the Mount: “as close to perfection as I could imagine”; he certainly left a lasting mark on our Community – and in The Academy, more generally.  I am extremely grateful to Dr. Wolverton for his innovative leadership during his five years as President of the Mount.  Indeed, he is a part of the rich legacy of Past-Presidential leadership at the Mount…   

May God continue to bless the legacy of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and the History of Mount St. Joseph University…



H. James Williams, Ph.D.