Joseph “Joe” Wagner, age 70, of Lansing passed away at home on July 8, 2016. He spent the last six years of his life dealing with cancer and defying all conventional predictions of survival over and over again. His wife Pat, son Daniel, daughter Rachel and brother Paul cared for him in his last week and were witness to the beautiful way he let go of life.
Joe was born in Chicago, IL on November 21, 1945, the son of LeRoy and Harriette Wagner. He received his undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Illinois in 1967 and his masters in history from the same institution. In 1971 he entered the interdisciplinary social science program in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and received his Ph.D. in 1980.
Joe was a true "Renaissance Man". His intellectual interests and areas of expertise were wide ranging. At Syracuse he was able to integrate studies in psychology, sociology and history. He began his lifelong career at Colgate University in 1980 as a member of the history department but migrated into political science where he taught from 1981 till his retirement in June, 2015. Joe's true love was philosophy and when asked what he taught, he consistently answered "the philosophy and psychology of politics." He published widely but was particularly passionate about his work in the areas of tolerance, morality, inequality, evolution and the complexities of the human brain.
Joe was very active in the Colgate community. He was a pioneer in computer technology and in the early 80's introduced computer usage to the social science faculty. He championed the cause of affirmative action by chairing the oversight committee in the early 80's and writing the first software program tracking affirmative action hires. He was a perfect fit for Colgate's general education program where he was integral to the development of its concept and coursework. One of his greatest passions was the Colgate pre-freshman year summer equal opportunity program. He helped develop its framework and taught in it for many years. Many of his lifelong student relationships were with young people from this program who were inspired by his total commitment to their potential. Joe was also active in faculty affairs. In the early 90's he was president of the Colgate Chapter of the AAUP and editor of its magazine, "Vox Facultatis". He served as chair of the political science department from 2002 to 2006 and was a valued mentor to other chairs who followed.
Joe was the quintessential teacher. He taught a wide range of courses including "Moral Issues and Public Policy", "Reason and Relativism in Social and Political Thought", "Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences", and "Contemporary Theories of Justice". Whatever he taught, his first priority was his students. He was an inspiring teacher and a larger than life role model. He believed that what he taught was important, and that every student had the capability to learn. In just one representative tribute, a former student wrote, "You taught us to think on a higher level than we ever thought possible. You have touched the lives of thousands and I am grateful to be one of them. Even though it's been 21 years, there is not a month that goes by where I don't think about you, the gentle giant, with a great mind that you so kindly shared."
Joe was also an extraordinary father, family man and friend. He and his wife Pat (McKee) of 47 years were the extremely proud parents of Daniel Wagner (Shannon) and Rachel Wagner-Gilchrist (James), grandparents of Peyton and Langston Wagner and step grandparents of Mikayla, Acadia, Everett and Gabe Gilchrist. He was the devoted brother of Paul Wagner (Ginny) and uncle to Elyse and Wes Wagner. He was also the loving brother-in-law to Bev McKee and uncle to Sara McKee and Lisa and Peter Kopp. Joe and Pat sustained a cherished lifelong friendship with Dennis and Donna Wittmer and their daughters Deanna and Dana. With his children, extended family members and friends, Joe shared his love of learning, his compassion, his sense of adventure, and a belief in the goodness of people. His children would say their father gave them the confidence to set high goals and overcome obstacles simply by using the strengths he so readily saw within them.
Joe walked through life making friends everywhere he went. He showed all equal respect, took a genuine interest in their lives and was completely present for people at all times. He engaged in conversations that were not only humorous and caring but challenged people's minds. In the last five years he and Pat were especially touched by their relationships with their doctor, Julie Campbell, and all the nurses at the oncology unit of Cayuga Medical. He and Pat were continually and profoundly moved by the wisdom and kindness of these beautiful people.
Joe Wagner made an impact. He was a kind and generous man. There will be a celebration of Joe's life at Colgate University (date to be announced). His wishes were that any remembrances be sent to the American Cancer Society.