Paul E. Wehr was born March 1, 1937 and passed away peacefully at home in Boulder, Colorado on November 17, 2017. The son of Julian and Julie (Laubinger) Wehr, Paul grew up in rural Vermont and Connecticut with his parents, brother, sister and three grandparents. He was raised with a deep sense of responsibility to pacifist ideals, hard work, and nature. Based upon this foundation, Paul built a life committed to Quaker values of peace, connectedness, environmental stewardship, and community service. He combined his life experiences and service in peace and environmental work with an academic career focused on the pioneering fields of peace, conflict management and social movement theory. Thus guided by this wholistic approach, Paul actualized his ideals in all aspects of his life and created new avenues for understanding and building just and peaceful communities.
During his time as a college and as a graduate student, Paul laid the groundwork for his pioneering work that combined peace and justice activism and scholarly analysis. Paul’s bent for social engagement found an outlet in Quaker sponsored service. His initial encounters with Quaker service work included volunteering with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) projects in European work camps and then in North Africa with French Algerian war refugees during the early 60s. The experience of working with Quakers and others dedicated to refugee relief and peacebuilding amid war and its aftermath, provided Paul with the focus for his PhD thesis at the University of Pennsylvania. His first teaching position was at Haverford College where he set up a Center for Non-Violent Conflict Resolution and taught innovative courses that often provided social service internships in the local community. While engaged in this work, Paul met Kenneth and Elise Boulding and Gilbert White, Quakers and scholars committed to promoting the emerging interdisciplinary field of peace and conflict studies. These relationships led, in the early 70s, to Paul’s being hired as a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Paul’s career at CU spanned four decades where he continued to weave scholarship with hands-on service work in social activism. His pathbreaking research was the groundwork for publications and inventive courses in social movements, conflict management and environmental sociology. These afforded his students unique experiential learning opportunities such as nonviolent participation in the protests at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility during the 80s and with Colorado communities challenged by social change and environmental degradation. Along with the Bouldings, he helped to create CU’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program (still ongoing) which provides alternative approaches to analyzing war, peace and social justice.
Paul received numerous awards for his creative ideas and pioneering scholarship as well as in recognition of his many personal “peacemaker” contributions that benefitted countless individuals and organizations. These include the distinguished Robin Williams Award granted by ‘the Peace, War, and Social Conflict Section’ of the American Sociological Association. The Denver AFSC presented Paul with their annual Jack Gore Memorial Peace Award and most recently the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center awarded him the Elise Boulding Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifelong commitment to creating awareness about and promoting Peace and Nonviolence Learning.
Paul’s environmental ethic was another element of his approach to living a holistic life. Concern for environmental sustainability and conservation of resources was an essential part of his scholarship and teaching. Paul took this concern one step further in the 1970s by building an eco-friendly home using solar energy and implementing a wise and limited use of resources. In addition, his deep love of nature led to his purchase in 1972 of land in DownEast Maine where he built a cottage and spent summers. This retreat nourished his soul and became a haven for friends and relatives to gather and experience the beauty of the coast. Recently he and his wife donated the wooded acreage and shore access to the National Wildlife Federation to ensure that this land would be preserved in its natural state for generations to come.
An essential aspect of Paul’s life was his involvement with Quakers. He became a member of Boulder Friends Meeting in the 70s and remained a faithful attender for the rest of his life. Weekly worship grounded him to serve the Meeting in any number of ways including clerk of the Meeting, member on the Oversight and Membership Committee, and long-time member of the Peace and Justice Committee. Paul continued his involvement with the AFSC, serving for many years as Boulder Meeting’s liaison with the Denver office of the AFSC. For decades, Paul stood at the Meeting’s weekly silent vigil for peace on the Boulder mall and he and his wife Christiane (Griffin-Wehr) ran the grocery card program which earned thousands of dollars for the Denver AFSC each year. Paul not only demonstrated the Quaker practice of service, but he also had a gift for connecting to others through kindness and compassion. His warm smile conveyed a heartfelt welcome for each person as a distinct and valuable individual. In this and many other ways he helped to create community, the core of Quaker faith and practice.
Paul is survived by his wife Christiane (Griffin-Wehr), her family (Curtis, wife Nicole, and daughter Allie), daughter Kirsten (Ron, son Alexander), sister Jeanine (Lawrence Jones, children Mark, Juliet), sister-in-law Nancy (children David, Paul, and Jennifer), niece Leah and eight grandnieces and nephews.
A memorial service to celebrate Paul E. Wehr’s life was held on December 16, 2017.