His Life
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.