Retired sociology department chair had lifelong love for KSU

Kristine Gill

Bebe Lavin passes away at the age of 85

Editor’s Note: Jerry Lewis was incorrectly listed as a source for this story. The correct source was Stanford W. Gregory Jr., an emeritus professor of sociology. The error occurred in the reporting process.

Andrew Lavin still remembers having picnics with his mother and brother James almost 50 years ago.

“In grade school she’d come and meet us and have a picnic in the park instead of soup and a sandwich at home,” he said. “She always made time for family.”

Bebe Lavin, former chairperson of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the university, passed away last Monday at the age of 85. She was diagnosed with cancer after retiring from Kent State at the age of 75.

“She led a really busy professional life and still found the time and energy to listen and comfort others,” Andrew said.

Bebe’s son James Lavin agreed with his brother.

“My memories of my mother were essentially of someone who had a career outside the home,” he said. “She was ahead of her time.”

Lavin led a busy life in Canton where she volunteered for various community organizations. Andrew said she was president of the PTA, worked with the local youth group, senior citizens and handicapped children and helped establish the first program for gifted students within the local school system.

“She had a very extensive career in volunteerism across Northeast Ohio,” he said. “Teaching in Kent was her second career.”

Her son James said he found old letters while looking through his mother’s belongings from Johns Hopkins University and a university in London, offering her positions while she worked at Kent State. She never took them.

“She really loved Kent,” James said, adding that she did research for the university and had several books published.

Stanford W. Gregory Jr., an emeritus professor from the sociology department, said Bebe helped split the department of sociology and anthropology into two separate departments.

“During her period the department hired a number of new people and became quite a strong department,” Lewis said, adding that she was well respected as one of the few female chairs of her time and was particularly liked by her grad students.

“She was a good friend of mine,” Lewis said. “She personally helped me a great deal.”

Lavin was a graduate of Wellesley College in Maine. She earned her master’s in child psychology at the University of Chicago and later, her master’s in sociology at Kent State. Upon completion of her doctorate at Case Western Reserve University, Lavin began teaching sociology at Kent State.

“She was most proud of mentoring grad students who were working on Ph.D.s,” her son Andrew said. “She was very committed to improving the department of sociology. She was very committed to the university.”

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Temple Israel in Canton.

Contact academic affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].