H. Mark Roelofs '44

H. Mark Roelofs, professor emeritus of New York Univ., and scholar of the American political mind, died Aug. 17, 2008, in Cheektowaga, N.Y., at age 84. He is survived by his wife, Sarah Buchanan Roelofs, three daughters, four sons and two sisters.

Mark was born in Stamford, Conn., as his mother was driving from her family’s Arden Farm in East Aurora, N.Y., to Massachusetts, where his father, Howard D. ’15 (non-grad), was studying for a doctorate in philosophy. Thereafter, as a child, he was often in the family car or on a train, beginning or ending a semester, in tow with his mom, his sibling and the family pets as his father’s work places ranged from California to New England to Ohio.  For several years he was home schooled but in his senior year was at Arden Farm long enough
to attend and graduate from East Aurora High School.

Influenced by his father and by his brother Gerritt, a Phi Beta Kappa member of the Class of 1942, Mark entered Amherst in 1940 and joined his brother’s fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta. Yearbooks indicate that he was a member of the freshman track team, played in the band, sang in the Amherst Chapel choir and liked to wear bow ties.

In 1943, Mark enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to Midshipman’s School at Columbia Univ. where he became an instructor. His military career ended with participation in the Paris Peace Conference in 1946 where, with a Russian counterpart, he helped with the disbanding of the Italian Navy.

Back at Amherst, he finished his A.B. degree in 1947, majoring in physics and history. In Oxford, England, where his sister’s husband was studying at Balliol College, he focused on politics and economics, and then again following in his father’s and brother’s footsteps, he pursued an academic career, teaching first at Colgate, then Cornell, and eventually at New York Univ., where as a full professor, he served in the Wilf Family Department of Politics.

Mark wrote dozens of articles covering a broad range of topics in American politics and political theory. He authored five books, one of which won an American Political Science Association prize. In his later years, six of his articles were on Biblical political theory. He
was a member of the South Wales Presbyterian Church.

His classes were popular, particularly among pre-law, history and journalism students. On three separate occasions, he was voted “best teacher.” As an administrator, he served as director of undergraduate studies at New York Univ. and was director of an innovative program called the Metropolitan Leadership Program.

An activist, Mark was not reticent in making known his political views and philosophy. He was a principal organizer of the Caucus For A New Political Science and became its first president. His book, The Poverty of American Politics (1992), is said to have been a product of a fierce idealism.  “His writings (laid) out a compelling vision of what the good state could be.” He was a vigorous opponent of the war in Vietnam.

Mark was sponsored by the Class of ’44 as a principal speaker at Reunion weekend 1994 (our 50th), where he gave a talk titled “The poverty of American Politics: Is Reform Possible”; he spoke again at our 60th on “Democratic Dialectics.”

In 1989, Mark purchased his family’s East Aurora farm in Erie County, near Buffalo, where he spent so much time as a youth. The farm had originally been a part of the early 20th century Roycroft reformist community of craft workers and artists that had been founded by his grandparents, Elbert and Alice Hubbard, who died in the sinking of RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland in World War I.

In 1994, as an addendum to the Class of 1944 Reunion yearbook, Mark penned these words:

“The spice of my life is Sarah, formerly a teacher (and tennis champion) but now a professional artist full time. She’s got kids. I have mine (from an earlier marriage), and starting some 15 years ago, we have resurrected our lives—together.

”A few years back, I was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease. It progresses, but I like to think, so do I. Still jog 20-30 miles a week—SLOWLY. Anybody else? It’s not the worst of the old age-isms.”

“As a diversion, I write short stories.”

—W. Sheridan Warrick ’44