Robert M. Wells ’08 was sociable and perseverant, always interested in making friends and focusing his — and their — full efforts into new things.
Wells, 22, who died of a fall this past Saturday, “was a very likable guy,” remembered his advisor, Edward A. Gibson.
Naturally gregarious, Wells made friends easily among the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department. “I feel like he could make friends with anyone,” said Abigail M. Clark ’09. “I enjoyed being around him.”
Wells brought candy to office hours and “really tied the group together” when they collaborated, she said. One time, when a particularly tough statistics test was coming up, he helped a group get through a marathon study session that lasted nearly 24 hours.
“It’s such a cliche,” said former men’s water polo coach Felix Mercado, “but everyone loves him.” “He had the best personality,” said Mercado, who coached the team in fall 2004 when Wells first came to MIT from the small town of Ballston Spa, New York.
Wells hadn’t done water polo before college, but he gave it a shot joining the varsity team two weeks before his first semester at the Institute. “Rob wasn’t afraid to try anything,” Mercado said, and “he wanted to do everything one hundred percent.”
In water polo, Wells worked hard, and met the friends who would become his fellow brothers when they pledged at Delta Upsilon. “His fraternity brothers were probably his saving grace,” said Mercado.
Even after a serious shoulder injury, Wells kept fighting to play, only giving up the sport once it became physically impossible to keep at it.
In the next fall, Wells started to play varsity football, where coach Dwight E. Smith remembered him for his “passion for just wanting to get out there and do it again.” Wells played as backup quarterback until midway through the season, when a series of injuries left him unable to walk. Smith remembered that he pushed hard because of his dedication to the team: “He just didn’t want to quit. He just didn’t want to stop doing it.”
Others might have abandoned physical exertion after these experiences, but Wells went right back at it. He liked working out and staying fit, and he played intramural sports with his fraternity.
“I have never seen anyone be so excited about IM sports,” said Quinn M. Scripter ’08, a DU brother who met Wells in his freshman year. “Any IM sport that DU played, Rob was there.” Wells especially loved IM hockey, and he was competing on DU’s hockey team this spring.
At his fraternity, Wells brought a contagious enthusiasm to IM sports — he motivated all his friends there to join up. “He was great at rallying people around his cause,” Scripter said.
In school, Wells was the one who organized people, who assembled study groups, and made e-mail lists to help people work together. He was also outspoken, using a keen sense of offbeat humor to keep people entertained during classes that might otherwise have been boring.
Wells was confident and helpful, said Tracey M. Ragsdale ’08, who was his lab partner this semester in Laboratory in Higher Cognition (9.61). He never let things faze him, always saying to himself “Oh, yeah, that test wasn’t great … but I’m going to enjoy myself,” said Ragsdale.
Wells’s advisor also thought of him as confident, with an endearingly funny demeanor: “He always wore Yankees gear … He really enjoyed having people be annoyed with him for being a Yankees fan,” said Gibson.
But Wells was also a serious student with a passion for psychology. He liked cognitive psychology, especially behavioral research that figures out why people do what they do, Gibson said.
“He was a very lively presence,” said Rebecca Blevins Faery, director of first-year writing, who taught Wells in his freshman year. “He always had something to say. He would make funny comments quite often,” but “he was serious also.”
Faery said that Wells was a learner: he was “really open to learning things, or changing positions that he held.”
Four years later, this hadn’t changed. Heather A. Paxson, who taught Wells in Understanding Culture (21A.109) this semester, wrote in an e-mail that “Rob demonstrated sharp insight and a passion for justice. He demonstrated deeply felt respect for perspectives radically different from his own.”
Wells was also genuinely honest. “He wasn’t afraid to admit his weaknesses or his shortcomings,” Mercado said. He was someone “that you use as an example … of no matter how tough it is, no excuses. You figure it out.”
“I really miss him,” Clark said. He was “sort of a different person for our major. That’s why he really stood out, being that outgoing.”
Wells is survived by his parents Michael and Laura; his sister Kayla; his maternal grandparents John and Phyllis Dumollin, Sr., of Londonderry, N.H.; several aunts, uncles, cousins, fraternity brothers, and friends; and his girlfriend Billie Briones.
A funeral will be held at St. Mary’s Church in Ballston Spa, New York tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. A memorial service will be held at MIT next week.