Sean Kay

September 07, 1967 ‒ November 13, 2020

Delaware, Ohio

Sean Kay died peacefully in his sleep of a heart attack early Friday morning November 13, 2020.

He is survived by his wife Anna Marie, their three daughters Cria, Siobhan, and Alana, his mother Jennifer Kay and his mother-in-law Anna Madigan. He is preceded in death by his father David Kay, and his father-in-law Matthew Madigan. He was a doting and dedicated family man as part of a large extended family in the United States and Ireland. He was proud of his daughters, who were his great joy, and he loved them.

Sean was an avid outdoorsman, exploring rivers all over the country in his kayak, a love inherited from his father. He went on several summer-long cross country camping trips with his family and many years of wonderful adventures in Michigan with his “Michigan crew” of dear friends. He loved music, especially the Grateful Dead, and his community of musicians with whom he joyously jammed often.

A gregarious and loving man, Sean was larger than life, which, as the cliché goes, he lived to the fullest. He was loved and he will be missed.

The following was written by Cole Hatcher from Ohio Wesleyan University, an institution where Sean made some dear lifelong friends, and where he was proud to be a professor.

In the afterward of his book on music and social change, Ohio Wesleyan University professor Sean Kay, Ph.D., shared this sentiment:
“The Beatles ended one of the greatest rock and roll records ever – Abbey Road – with this line: ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.’ … Sometimes the simplest message is the most powerful. If it is true that, in the end, love trumps hate and fear, then certainly all you need is love.”

Ohio Wesleyan is remembering Kay with love today – including his passion for music, the environment, global security, and, most importantly, preparing his students to make a difference in the world. Kay died Nov. 13 at his home.

He joined Ohio Wesleyan in 1999 and was the current Robson Professor of Politics and Government and director of the International Studies Program. He was a prodigious scholar who was constantly researching, writing, and publishing books and commentaries reflecting his newest knowledge.

In recognition of his significant scholarship, Kay earned the 2020 Welch Award for Scholarly Achievement, which recognizes “distinguished scholarly or artistic achievement among Ohio Wesleyan University faculty members.” He previously received OWU’s Bishop Francis Kearns Award for outstanding teaching and was the first recipient of the University’s Libuse L. Reed Endowed Professorship.

The topics of his many acclaimed books attest to the diversity of his interests. They include “NATO and the Future of European Security”; “Global Security in the Twenty-first Century: The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace”; “Celtic Revival?: The Rise, Fall and Renewal of Global Ireland”; “America’s Search for Security: The Triumph of Idealism and the Return of Realism”; and “Rockin’ the Free World! How Rock & Roll Changed America and the World.”

“Dr. Sean Kay was passionate about the power of learning and its potential to make the world a better place,” said University President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “Whenever I talk to alumni who took his courses, I always hear about the deep impact Sean made on their lives. His impact as an educator and scholar will be long remembered and celebrated. His legacy is significant.”

OWU student Meg Edwards ’22 shared via social media: “Sean Kay was one of the first faculty members I met at Ohio Wesleyan, before I’d committed. His courses changed my career path and my worldview and I will never forget when we all wanted to give up in the spring, he danced. OWU will not be the same without him.” (After the coronavirus impacted in-person learning, Kay became known for dancing at the start of his online classes to ensure the sessions started off with a smile.)

In addition to Kay’s work at Ohio Wesleyan, he also was a Mershon Associate at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University. He previously served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, and National Intelligence Council. He also held previous positions as a Non-Resident Fellow at the Eisenhower Institute, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (U.S. Department of Defense), and at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels, Belgium.
As a student, Kay earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kent State University, a master’s degree from Free University of Brussels, and his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts.

In addition to his scholarly achievements, Kay was an active and recognized member of the Delaware community, where he both worked and lived.

Most recently, Kay earned the Keep Delaware County Beautiful Coalition’s Garrison-Brown Award for his volunteer work at the 2019 Northern Olentangy Watershed Festival, Olentangy River Cleanup, and Scioto River Clean Sweep. During the sweep, he used his kayaking expertise to keep volunteers safe and moving forward as they pulled debris from the water. His interest in rivers also tied into his most recent research into grassroots campaigns for river conservation in the United States and abroad.

Rather than hosting a funeral service during the pandemic, there is a virtual memorial page at for those who wish to share memories or photographs.

The family has asked that all donations in his honor be made to Friends Of The River.

The Snyder-Rodman Funeral Center of Delaware is honored to serve the Kay family during this time.

  • I met Sean at the ARTA office in Oakland in about 1975 or 76. His dad David, worked with my soon to be husband, Bill Center at ARTA River Trips. Sometimes Sean came to work with his dad. It seemed a short while later, but was probably 10-15 years, when he came to the Coloma valley to work for Bill and I as a river guide, we operated ARTA’s trips in California. He stayed for a few seasons entertaining guides and passengers with his music and friendly nature. Sean was sincere, big hearted, affectionate, and competent. We were sorry to see him go, but since he left, every few years he would send a sweet email to us sharing his current projects and catching us up on his life. I’m sending love to all who knew him, especially his family.
    robin Center

  • I started communication with Sean in 2016 after I sent out notices for the 2017 Stan Reunion and met him at the reunion in Oct. 2017. He was such a down to earth guy, for someone with his back ground it was refreshing. We stayed in touch as he planned to attend the next Stan Reunion in 2019. When he couldn’t make it he sent us the draft of his latest paper on the Stan to share with everyone, and even called us during the event.
    He was a bright shinning star and flamed out to quickly.

    Below is a quote from is father David that he shared with us
    “In the final analysis it is not how man can change the land, but rather how man can change himself. It is sadly tragic to believe one must ‘improve’ nature for the benefit of man. The real task is how to improve ‘man’ for his own benefit and survival.” – David Kay”
    They are now together rafting a great river in the sky.
    My condolences to his family and all his friends.
    Paul Barth

  • My love and prayers Anna Marie and girls!!! Fond memories of Sean at Mingo every summer, jogging around town and playing with his band downtown. My deepest sympathies at your terrible loss!

  • Oh, my goodness. Such sad news. I worked with Sean’s dad, Dave, for several years at the ARTA River Trips office in Oakland, California decades ago. So, I was pleased to become friends with Sean on Facebook and enjoyed his posts, especially about his river trip memories and his love of music. Peace to all of you who are deeply mourning Sean’s death.

  • What a loss to his family and our planet. Sean was one of the kindest and giving individuals I have ever met. Loved playing in a band with him back in the 90’s. So much fun!!! Keep jamming Sean! Especially on St Patrick’s day. Maybe you are jamming with him already up in heaven!

  • Such a loss to Ohio Wesleyan and the Delaware community. He had boundless energy and commitment. He will be missed.

  • Sean left a big impression at Ohio Wesleyan University. When we had to switch to online learning in the spring, he would begin each of his online class sessions with a dance to some classic rock song. He and I discovered late in our overlapping years working on campus that we shared a love of music and a passion for protecting the natural environment. I lined up a gig for him and his band, the River Men, at the 2019 Northern Olentangy Watershed Festival, after enjoying their concert at a similar event at Boardman Arts Park the year before. He will be missed.

  • I am so saddened by Sean’s passing. He had so much more to give and enjoy, most importantly with his family. I will miss our occasional discussions and debates about NATO, and the opportunities to appreciate his love of music. He will be remembered well and fondly.

  • Anna Marie,

    I was so shocked to have just read of Sean’s passing. I am so sorry. I always admired Sean for his work ethics and dedication to everything he did. He will be sadly missed. I ask for God to comfort you and your family during these hard times.

    Rest in Peace my friend.