A tribute to Charles D. Spielberger, PhD, ABPP

By Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, ABPP

I am deeply humbled to stand before you today and honor one of the giants of our field, Charles Spielberger, PhD, known to his friends and colleagues as Charlie. It is a special treat that his wonderful and loving wife, Carol, is here today, as she was an honorary member of so many of the boards and committees on which Charlie served. Charlie died in June 2013 at age 86 and was survived by not only his wife Carol, but also their son Nicholas. At the time of his death, he was an emeritus professor at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. 

I consider Charlie to be one of my professional mentors with regard to the history and ins and outs of APA and I know that he graciously and generously mentored countless graduate students; junior faculty; and APA board, committee and council members. I served with him on council representing Div. 12 and also was president of that division when he was a member of the APA Council. My interactions with Charlie were stimulating and fascinating, as he had an amazing capacity to understand the complexities and richness of the human mind, personality dynamics and interpersonal interactions. I also consistently was impressed by the depth of his integrity, his passion, his kind and caring nature, and good will toward others. Charlie has been described by those who knew him best as inspirational, motivating and one of profession’s greatest diplomats. His students found their training with him to be transformative. 

A truly brilliant and intellectually engaged, clinical, community and health psychologist, Charlie’s contributions to our profession were enormous. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of South Florida, his long-time professional home, he held faculty appointments at Duke, Vanderbilt (in Nashville), and Florida State University. An incredibly well-funded researcher, he was best known for his creation of the very popular and frequently used State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). This scale has been translated into 66 languages and dialects, and used in more than 15,000 archival studies during the past 30 plus years. He also was the co-author of a number of other very useful tools, such as the State Trait Anger Expression Inventory, which has been translated into 8 languages, and the Job Stress Inventory. A major figure in advancing our understanding of the linkages between personality and health, he created and directed the Center for Research and Behavioral Medicine and Health Psychology at the University of South Florida. Moreover, he made landmark scholarly contributions related to verbal conditioning, the preventive interventions to alleviate the adverse effects of anxiety on academic performance, and the field of positive psychology. A prolific and gifted writer, and one of the most innovative pioneers in our field, at the time of his death he had over 460 professional publications. What strikes me and others about these writings is that they are crafted in such a reader-friendly fashion, and yet have a sophistication that is rare. Over the years, he received countless awards, including highly coveted lifetime achievement awards, from his university, state and nationally for his scholarly contributions and research prowess. 

Although Charlie’s career focused primarily on research, he also prioritized training and professional practice. The chair of his department for many years, Charlie distinguished himself as a wonderful teacher and was very devoted to ensuring quality education and training in psychology. For example, he served as the director of clinical training at Florida State University and the University of South Florida. He was board certified through the American Board of Professional Psychology in clinical psychology, and recognized as a distinguished practitioner of psychology by the National Academies of Practice. He also received many awards for his significant contributions to clinical and community psychology, education in psychology and professional practice. 

There is no question that Charlie was one of the most dedicated servants to the APA. Indeed, his contributions to our organization were simply extraordinary. His service to APA began in the late 1960s. The 100th president of the APA, serving as president in 1991, he also served as our treasurer and on the Board of Directors. He held countless leadership roles within APA as well, such as the chair of the Finance Committee and the Investment Committee. A fellow of 14 APA Divisions, he served as president of Divs. 12, 27 and 52. He was very active in other organizations as well, and served as the chair of the National Council of Scientific Society Presidents and the president of the Society for Personality Assessment and the Stress and Anxiety Research Society. As a leader, he was collaborative, respectful, action oriented and visionary.

I always appreciated the opportunity to talk with Charlie about international psychology and indeed he is one of the key people that influenced my interest in psychology more globally. His active involvement in international psychology was stimulated by spending six months in London at the Florida State University Study Center. He was the proud recipient or co-recipient of a number of NATO grants that supported his work and enabled him to organize a number of major international conferences in different countries on such diverse topics as stress and anxiety, health psychology and stress and emotion. He was a major player on the international psychology scene, was a member of the U.S. National Committee for International Psychology, and was the president of the International Association of Applied Psychology. 

No commentary on Charlie and his wife Carol would be complete without some acknowledgment of their financial generosity. They have gifted the American Psychological Foundation (APF) a considerable sum of money, and as such, have been a driving force behind APF’s ability to support talented students and scholars who strive to find solutions to such public health concerns as violence prevention, post-disaster recovery, eradicating stigma and prejudice, and integrating behavioral and physical health. He also sponsored the Spielberger EMPathy Symposium through APA Divs. 3, 8 and 12. The goal of this symposium is to stimulate and facilitate the integration and dissemination of knowledge in the areas of emotion, motivation and personality. As a recipient of this honor myself, I remember vividly giving my presentation at the symposium and Charlie’s genuine intellectual curiosity about my work.  

And so in closing, for his impressive contributions to psychology both nationally and internationally and for his dedication to the APA, we say thank you to Charlie from the bottom of our hearts. Our discipline, our profession and our organization owe him so much. And more personally, I owe Charlie a debt of gratitude for encouraging and supporting my growing involvement in this wonderful organization.