Cover Story

In Memoriam, Joan G. Buchanan

As a tribute to Joan, we asked APA and international colleagues to send memories, anecdotes or words about her. These tributes follow and help capture the Joan G. Buchanan we knew.

By Merry Bullock, PhD, and Sally Leverty

For many years, APA’s international face of psychology was Joan Buchanan. She was the familiar beacon at international congresses and meetings and the greeter at APA’s convention for international guests and visitors. Joan championed the many initiatives to form a division devoted to international issues (Division 52), to gain APA accreditation at the United Nations, and to place APA as a host to the world’s psychologists. Even now, some years since Joan’s retirement, colleagues from Albania to Zambia inquire about her activities and speak of her with fondness.

Joan joined APA in the early 1980s and began to direct the international affairs office in 1989. She brought to that office and to APA experience in the Washington policy world, experience from broad international travels, and a commitment to supporting members and international affiliates in all things international – from conferences to publishing to advocacy. She also exuded a joie de vivre and an iconoclastic view of life than enriched and enlivened APA and international colleagues and friends.

Joan’s death from cancer, even though she and friends and colleagues knew it was inevitable, still came as a surprise. We remember her flair in dealing with chemotherapy after her first diagnosis of cancer, her incredible recovery from a debilitating bout with West Nile virus that left her in a coma and then able to move only one finger when she awoke, and her strength after the death of her husband Joost, a favorite among colleagues here and abroad. Joan showed us a spirit and resilience that was breathtaking, but that was entirely in character.

To Joan:

As a tribute to Joan, we asked APA and international colleagues to send memories, anecdotes or words about her. These tributes follow and help capture the Joan G. Buchanan we knew. Please write to International to add to them.

Joan combined the qualities of competence and compassion. It was such a pleasure to work with her on the International committee and on other projects. I remember how skillfully she developed relationships with the South African Psychological Association during times of turmoil there and her warm welcoming of international visitors to the APA conventions. She developed a network of psychologists to help non-English speaking writers prepare manuscripts for US publications. And she and Henry David authored a seminal chapter on international psychology for the History of Psychology, published in 2003 by Wiley. But the most fun was going to movies with her that my wife didn’t want to see. Joan loved movies, the theater, and opera, but most of all--life itself.

Donald K. Freedheim, PhD,
Past Chair, APA Committee on International Relations

I so enjoyed the occasions when my work in the CE arena at APA crossed paths with Joan’s work in the International Office. It was always a pleasure to work with her, and to run into her in our daily routine. When I think of her, of course, one thing I remember is her stylish appearance. One day during her initial treatment for cancer I ran into her in the morning as we headed into the elevator. There she was—cool as always—with this AMAZING scarf tied around her head and knotted in a way only she could do it. I have never forgotten that—she showed us to handle the things that life throws at us with style and grace.

Jo Linder-Crow, PhD, Executive Director,
California Psychological Association and CPA Foundation

Joan was appointed director for international affairs shortly before I was appointed CEO, so we learned about international psychology together. At that time, APA’s image in the international community was not great—some feared that APA, as the biggest kid on the block, w ould be imperialistic or domineering, and so kept their distance.

Joan set about changing that image, and her sunny disposition and continuous communication—she even sent season’s greetings messages to all national association presidents—worked wonders. Soon we were welcoming executive directors from other countries for week long training sessions to help them be more effective executives, and it became clear to international leaders that APA was using its muscle to help, not to dominate.

I have many pleasant memories of working closely with Joan over many years, and her prolonged illnesses and recent death saddened me as it did hundreds of psychologists around the world with whom she had become friends. She will be missed, but our current outstanding international programs owe much to her energy, her foresight, and her remarkable ability to establish effective relationships around the world.

Ray Fowler, PhD,
Former APA CEO and President-Elect of IAAP

I knew Joan Buchanan for many years when she was Director of the Office of International Affairs. She was always smiling, helpful, and courteous. We met at a various international meetings and also at APA. Joan along with others interviewed me when I was selected to be one of the first group of representatives at the United Nations. Joan was a real asset to APA and will certainly be missed as well as fondly remembered.

Florence L. Denmark, PhD,
Pace University, USA

Working with Joan Buchanan over many years. I always appreciated her sensitivity to the nuances of international work, her capacity to cope with multiple tasks, and her devotion to the international community. Quite some time ago we met at least once a month in her office to work on the history of international psychology chapter for the Wiley volume edited by Don Freedheim. At lunchtime we would go to the downstairs delicatessen to bring back sandwiches. Joan knew it was an opportunity for me to sin - to eat forbidden food,, especially the dill pickles. She would always ask for an extra pickle and - once back in her office. would give both her pickles to me - with a big grin on her face. It was a little secret we shared.

Henry P. David, PhD,
Transnational Family Institute, USA

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Joan Buchanan. The International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS) knew Joan well, as an observer at many Union Assembly Meetings, as host at APA receptions at international congresses, and through her collaboration on several Union projects during her tenure at APA. Joan was a close friend of many in the Union and will be sorely missed. Our thoughts turn now to her family, to whom we send our heartfelt condolences at this sad time.

On behalf of the IUPsyS
Rainer K. Silbereisen, PhD,

….I met her time ago, and I found her a very charming and helpful person, devoted to her APA. All of us will miss her deeply.

Helio Carpintero, PhD,

Joan was a remarkable woman whose attitude toward life was always optimistic yet appreciative of absurdities and ironies. She made the world around her a better place, from the interior decoration of her various houses and apartments in D.C. to health care policy for older adults to her most recent commitment to the Washington Literacy Council. In 1987, before she became the international face of psychology, the two of us along with my step-daughter Laurie shared a trip to Nepal while my step-daughter Leigh and son-in-law Dirk were in the Peace Corps there. In addition to the Kathmandu Valley, the visit included a 5-day trek with Leigh and Dirk from Pokhara to Gorkha, staying in people’s homes in villages along the way. To walk a terrain is to know it in a special way, and there was no better person with whom to walk than Joan.

Margy Gatz, PhD,
University of Southern California, USA

I was privileged, as Secretary-General and then as President of the Interntional Union of Psychological Science, to know and work with Joan Buchanan for many years. Her profound knowledge and competence, her never tiring helpfulness and cooperation, and her ever so kind and sympathic way of conduct made her invaluable for everyone involved in international affairs and programs in psychology. She contributed greatly to the role of APA in such programs and to our joint goal of bringing psychological science to bear in the global context. Thank you so much, Joan!

Kurt Pawlik, PhD,
University of Hamburg, Germany

Joan Buchanan understood the politics of psychology and the politics of the APA, but most of all she understood principle. With a wry smile and a knowing wink, she moved CIRP forward at a time when some at APA wanted to close it for spurious reasons. It was during the course of her leadership that the movement for “internationalizing the psychology curriculum” was initiated and eventually gained popularity and widespread acceptance. She fought the good and noble fight within APA and in life.

Anthony J. Marsella, PhD,
Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility 2007-2008

I am writing this e-mail in honor of Joan Buchanan, head of the APA’s International Affairs Office from the late 1980 until 2005. As a member of the International Council of Psychologists and Past President of the International Councill of Psychologists, I was deeply indebted to Joan for all her assistance in affairs international as well as support of our organization. SHE WAS A TOTAL GEM AND AN UNUSUALLY COOPERATIVE AND INFORMATIVE INDIVIDUAL. She was loved for her genuineness, her cooperative abilities and skills, her zest for life and joy, her knowledge of things international, and best of all, for a being a true friend to us. She will be dearly missed, and her absence will be noticeable.

Frances M. Culbertson, PhD,
Past President, International Council of Psychologists

Joan was a very special person to everybody. She was especially supportive to us during the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. It was a consolation to us South African psychologists to know that we had a friend at APA in Washington that looked out for us. In addition to that, she and Joost were just plain good friends to us, whether we were in DC or in South Africa.

J.W. P. Heuchert, PhD,
Allegheny College, USA

I worked with Joan for all the years she headed APA’s International Affairs Office. Joan was truly internationally minded, anchored in her values as a person. She also had a sense of humour. It included an occasional bite that was as easily self-focused as it could be directed at pomposity and institutional barriers. Her compassion was legendary; she was never more effective than serving as advocate for those in need of APA support or the help of any other organization she thought should contribute.

Pierre L.-J Ritchie, PhD,
Secretary-General, International Union of Psychological Science

On behalf of SIP (Sociedad Interamericana de Psicología, Interamerican Society of Psychology), its members and its board of directors, I express our deepest, collective sympathy for the passing of Ms. Joan Buchanan. As the chorus of international voices demonstrates, Joan was a dear friend of many in SIP. We all remember her inviting smile, her affability, her humanity, her genuine interest in people and their circumstances. She was always at the ready to lend a helping hand to any and everybody who approached her, be it at the APA booth during the Interamerican Congress or at the receptions hosted by APA, also at the Interamerican Congresses. She was the best ambassador that APA could have; she was thoughtful, considerate, and with an endless capacity to connect people with opportunities within APA and beyond.

Psychology and psychologists in the Americas benefited from her graciousness, her approachability, and her resourcefulness. We wish her family and colleagues the very best as we all seek to cope with this untimely loss.

Andrés J. Consoli, PhD
President, SIP

Comments from Joan's Latin American Colleagues...

I appreciated Joan for her smarts and her positive nature. I remember how happy she was with Joost and he with her. How she fought for her life and for his. She was so supportive of her colleagues and fun to be around. I especially remember the stories of the local wild critters that would use the cat doors in her house and stroll around the house getting into the cat food, water, and sometimes, bed! To me, Joan’s aura was always bright and warm and welcoming.

Jessica Kohout, PhD,
Director, APA Research Office, USA

I have nothing but positive memories of Joan. I visited with her at each APA convention and brought several of my overseas friends and students to her booth or to the reception for international guests. Without exception, she greeted each of them warmly and asked how APA could be helpful to them in their careers or their studies. Her husband, Joost, was equally congenial and it was a dreadful shock to hear of his passing. Frankly, I do not think Joan ever recovered from this loss. Joan was very helpful in letting me display my APA-published book at overseas conferences, and in giving sound advice as to which APA publications would be helpful to my overseas friends. In addition to her solid knowledge of general psychology, Joan was collegial, lively, and witty. She made an outstanding contribution to psychology. APA is fortunate to have found a worthy successor to carry on the work that she initiated.

Stanley Krippner, PhD,
Saybrook Graduate School, USA

This is a tremendous loss of a great human being. She did set the tone for APA’s engagement with national and international psychology organisations the world over, engendering the kind of receptivity to APA that has endured. The tragic passing of Joost, and now Joan, is a shared loss for many of us who have experienced their warmth, open-heartedness, humour, candour and ability to break down barriers that stereotypy and history have imposed on us. Wish there were more of her ilk!

Saths Cooper, PhD,
Past President, Psychological Society of South Africa

Even among many gracious folks who work within APA, Joan Buchanan stood out through the 1990s, for her exceptional warmth and desire to help others. Two examples come to mind:

  • With Psi Chi officers in 1995, Joan encouraged their interest to expand from the largest US honor society into an international honor society. Without Joan’s kind help, Psi Chi could not have collaborated with APA on the first global survey of 75 national associations, profiling their efforts to organize psychology students. Joan’s cooperation actually led to the formation of the first global student psychology organization in 2001, www.

  • Before and during the formation of the new APA International Division in 1997, Joan was a continued source of support. In her low-key yet effective way, she helped during the difficult first days. It was only natural that Sarah Jordan and Joan Buchanan received the Division’s first two outstanding service awards for years 1999 and 2000. All the international folks looked forward to seeing Joan’s radiant smile at the International Affairs desk when they visited the annual APA meeting each year.

In the fall of 2008, with Henry David’s help, the new six-person APA team at the United Nations found Joan’s home address to send her a gift calendar for 2009 with our warm wishes, and Joan replied with her own warm thanks. Though Joan will not use that calendar, those warm wishes for her are still very much there. We all thank you Joan.

Harold Takooshian, PhD,
Fordham University, USA

We are very sorry to know that Ms. Joan Buchanan has passed away. Please forward our heartfelt condolences to her family.

Kan Zhang
President, Chinese Psychological Society
On behalf of the Chinese Psychological Society