Running Commentary

Some people called her Catherine, and others called her Cathy. I called her Catherine when we were doing APA business, and Cathy when we were joking and having fun. As Catherine Acuff, PhD, she was a dedicated professional. Whether teaching, doing psychotherapy, overseeing AIDS programs around the country or serving with her colleagues on APA's Board of Directors, Catherine took her work, and psychology, very seriously. As Cathy Acuff, she was full of fun and lively humor. An enthusiastic but less than great golfer, she laughed as hard at her bad shots as her good ones. And even in the midst of an intense debate, she would break up at a funny remark by a colleague. Catherine was respected and admired by her colleagues and associates; Cathy was loved by her family and a multitude of friends.

The June meeting of the APA Board will be marked by the absence of this strong, warm and talented woman, who had become a highly respected colleague and cherished friend to me and to many others. Shortly after a site visit to San Francisco, Catherine developed a headache, which later became intense. She was hospitalized for tests and found to have a major brain aneurism. The news that she had been nominated to be a candidate for the APA presidency in 2002 came in a call from Dick Suinn, Elections Committee chair, while she was in the hospital. Her friends prepared congratulatory signs for her hospital room so they would be the first thing she would see after she returned from surgery, but sadly, she did not regain consciousness. She remained in a deep coma for several weeks until her death in a hospice on April 21.

More than her achievements

Catherine began her career as a teacher, developed an interest in psychology and received her PhD in 1981 from Duke University. She had a private practice in Connecticut for 16 years. Becoming active in the Connecticut Psychological Association, she served as its president in 1987­88 and twice represented Connecticut on the APA Council of Representatives before being elected to APA's Board. At 51, she was one of the youngest presidential candidates in recent years.

Throughout her career, Catherine was active in APA and its divisions. She was a Fellow of Div. 35 (Women) and past-president of Div. 31 (State Psychological Association Affairs) and was a trustee of APA's Insurance Trust. She also served as head of the Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists. At her death, she was a senior health policy analyst in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. As director of a national HIV/AIDS Cost Study, Catherine coordinated a collaborative effort of six federal centers, bureaus and institutes that her colleague Melvyn Haas calls "a heroic accomplishment."

But Catherine was so much more to us than the sum of her achievements. In addition to being highly regarded for her professional contributions, she was deeply appreciated for her warm personality and for genuinely caring about those with whom she interacted; in other words, for being Cathy. I always felt a special bond with Cathy, partly because of our shared roots in the South. She was born in Arkansas and lived much of her early life in Tennessee where Roy Acuff, part of her extended family, was the king of country music.

An inspiration for many

Catherine's impact on the lives of others can be seen from the notes sent by her friends and colleagues after the announcement of her death. The following are typical:

"She has been a great mentor, role model, colleague and friend. I will miss her wisdom, clarity, courage, principles, deliberation and gentle power, as well as genuine friendliness, generosity and quiet spirituality."

"She was indeed a tireless inspirational leader for psychology who will be truly missed. I am grateful for the memory of Catherine's joy at the recent State Leadership Conference when she introduced the Honorable Donna Shalala. That memorable and moving experience was a gift from Catherine to all of us who were fortunate to be there that day."

"Most of all, Cathy was fair in her dealings with others and was a strong advocate for ethnic-minority and underrepresented groups. She was a rising star in psychology who left us long before her time."

The picture above was taken at the last Board meeting I attended with Cathy. A photographer was there, and Cathy said, "I want a picture with you." I jokingly asked "Why do you want a picture with me?" and Cathy said, "I don't know why, I just want one." I'll always be glad she did.