George R. Saunders, 1946-2020

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

George R. Saunders, a Lawrence University anthropology professor for more than two decades before a serious brain injury took him from the classroom in 2001, passed away on Sept. 17.

He died at his Appleton home with his wife, Bickley Bauer-Saunders, and family at his side. He was 74.

Saunders, who held a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of California-San Diego, joined the Lawrence faculty in 1977. He spent many years as chair of the Anthropology Department and is being remembered by colleagues for his mentoring skills, his commitment to his students, and his anthropology scholarship in the areas of language, religion, and Mediterranean Europe.

“George was a well-respected scholar of religious movements in contemporary Italy,” said Peter N. Peregrine, a professor of anthropology who worked with Saunders beginning in 1995. “He focused on Pentecostalism among rural communities and the interesting relationships and conflicts between Pentecostals and Catholics within that strongly Catholic nation.”

Saunders helped found the Society for the Anthropology of Europe in 1986, served on the group’s first Executive Committee, and was the group’s treasurer from 1996 to 2000.

Four years after arriving at Lawrence, Saunders earned the school’s Young Teacher Award (today known as the award for Excellent Teaching by an Early Career Faculty Member), one of numerous honors he’d receive for his teaching and scholarship. Then-President Richard Warch said Saunders brought to the classroom “an infectious enthusiasm for learning, a solid grounding in theory, and a wealth of field experience, and has, in the process, made the study of anthropology both intellectually challenging and humanely rewarding.”

Saunders suffered a serious brain injury in 2001 as a consequence of a brain tumor. Almost two decades later, his presence continues to be felt in and beyond the Anthropology Department.

The university funded an anthropology library in his honor shortly after he left the faculty. It still resides in the anthropology seminar room, Briggs 305, and has been used by generations of students for classes and research projects.

Peregrine called Saunders “a calming influence across the campus” and said his leadership helped build a strong Anthropology Department.

“Within the department he was a strong leader and tireless promoter of anthropology’s central role in developing a better appreciation for diversity among our students,” he said. “He was a wonderful, caring, and supportive mentor to me. … He was universally loved by his students, and was known as one of the most talented teachers at the University.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu