Robert O. Hawkins Jr., a retired Stony Brook University dean and former Suffolk County human rights commissioner who successfully fought to change his dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s for being gay, has died.
Hawkins, 76, died Sept. 19 in his Stony Brook home from prostate cancer, his family said.
Born in 1938 in Valdosta, Georgia, Hawkins graduated from the Naval Academy in 1961, the family said. He went into the Navy but was dishonorably discharged in 1962, his family said. That was changed to honorable about 50 years later after he enlisted help from lawmakers.
Edmund J. McTernan Jr., 58, of upstate Lansingburgh, who described Hawkins as "a second father," said Hawkins had aspired to be a high-ranking naval officer. "Serving was what he had his heart set on as a career," he said.
Hawkins, of Stony Brook, earned his master's degree in education from Northeastern University in 1969 and a doctorate in philosophy from New York University in 1986, family said. He taught human sexuality at Stony Brook University, where he worked for about 30 years before retiring in 1995 as associate dean, they said.
He also served as human rights commissioner from 1988 to 1998 and was a member of both the New York City and Long Island Gay Men's choral groups.
David Kilmnick, executive director of the Long Island GLBT Services Network, said Hawkins became a mentor and friend after the pair met in 1991 when Kilmnick was a student in his class. Hawkins was the founding board president of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, Kilmnick said.
Kilmnick helped Hawkins publish a book about his more than 25-year love relationship with a married male and female couple. "It's a special love that many people may not understand, but certainly was evident," Kilmnick said. "This was a story that we know other people experience, and he wanted to make sure that he was able to tell his story to the world."
The book, "We 3," was published the day before Hawkins' death and a copy was buried with him, Kilmnick said.
Moira Edwards, 61, of Stony Brook, whose late parents were involved with Hawkins, said he was a patient tutor who helped her and her siblings with math homework. "We wouldn't be where we are today if we hadn't gotten through those math classes with Bob's help," she said.
Never idle, Hawkins competed in several triathlons and senior games when he wasn't canoeing, mountain biking or baking pecan pies for neighbors, Edwards said.
"He had a personal discipline," said Brennan McTernan, 52, of Fanwood, New Jersey, who said Hawkins was a father figure. "He was courageous in the things that he believed in."
Hawkins was preceded in death by his life partners Edmund J. and Michele L. McTernan, of St. James.
He is survived by brothers Frederick Hawkins of Albany, Georgia, and George Hurst Hawkins of Eatonton, Georgia; and family including Edwards, the McTernan brothers, Catherine Walls of Milford, Delaware, and Michele I. McTernan of Setauket.
Hawkins was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.