Feature

DR. GEORGE WILSON ALBEE

George Albee used to drive a big checkered taxicab during his years as a University of Vermont (UVM) psychology professor. So when a woman flagged him down at the Burlington airport one day, he loaded her bags and drove her to the Radisson. When she tried to pay, he told her, "No need for that ma'am. The cabs in Burlington are free today. It's a special."

The story, recounted by his UVM colleagues, says a lot about Albee's playful sense of humor, but also about the 1970 APA president's belief in service to others. Albee called on his fellow psychologists to help the less fortunate and tackle such social problems as racism, sexism, unemployment and child abuse. In his view these social problems--and not "twisted molecules"--engender psychopathology in individuals.

"George liked to say that 'No mass disorder affecting humankind has ever been brought under control by treating an individual,'" says longtime Albee protégé Lynne Bond, PhD, of UVM.

Rather, Albee held that the best way to handle psychological vulnerability is to take on capitalism, patriarchy and other such large-scale systems that he believed foster it. Along with others such as James Kelly, PhD, Seymour Sarason, PhD, and Emory Cowen, PhD, Albee was a major founder of the approach, known as primary prevention of psychopathology.

"George said that instead of waiting for people to go over the waterfall, we should be building dams to keep them from going over in the first place," says Bond.

'He did nothing halfheartedly'

Albee wasn't afraid to share his opinions on primary prevention, or any other matter, notes Bond, who first knew Albee through her parents. Albee took her to baseball games in the 1950s and 1960s when he was a professor at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University.

"Whether it was talking about psychology and the world, cheering at an Indians game or telling jokes at midnight, George was full of passion," Bond says. "He did nothing halfheartedly."

He could also be passionately combative, she says, posing "outrageous anti-statements" to stir a reaction. In a talk at APA's 2001 Annual Convention, for example, he proposed the dismantling of organized religion, claiming "they are all patriarchal...and that is one of the major sources of social injustice in our society."

On the lighter side, Albee enjoyed teasing his colleagues. He was known for instigating weight-loss contests at APA Annual Conventions, then sending his competitors boxes of chocolates to thwart their diets. He submitted his dog Otis for a who's who of academia publication. He urged Bond to apply for a faculty position at UVM but warned, "Just don't tell people you know me. It could help with some but will hurt with most."

Albee also invited colleagues to two-day chicken grills on his 10-acre property outside Burlington, where he kept chickens, pigs and cows. Another cooking specialty was his Marco Polo pot roast, which won an award in a national beef cook-off.

Pro-prevention, anti-medicalization

While Albee didn't take himself too seriously, says UVM colleague Justin Joffe, PhD, he took primary prevention very seriously, founding the influential Vermont Conference on the Primary Prevention of Psychopathology.

"Of those in the area, he was especially politically aware and perhaps most controversial," says Joffe, noting that Albee's thinking stemmed from his service on President Eisenhower's Joint Commission on Mental Health and Illness in the 1950s. Based on that work, he claimed in his book "Mental Health Manpower Trends" (Basic Books, 1959) that continuing the medicalization of mental health services would mean the development of psychopathology for many, and treatment for only a privileged few.

"He took on psychiatry for selling the idea that mental disorders are biologically based and need chemical interventions," says Joffe. "He also debated with psychology colleagues who pushed one-on-one therapy."

One of Albee's favorite sayings was, "Therapy between consenting adults shouldn't be illegal." He thought the field should rather focus on large-scale social interventions and leave individual therapy to bachelor's-level providers.

Albee pushed his prevention approach through service in countless governance positions in APA and its divisions. He published 230 articles and book chapters on prevention, and helped co-found the American Association for Applied and Preventive Psychology and the American Psychological Society.

"George advocated strongly for psychologists to leave their offices and engage in community mental health action as public citizens," says APA President Gerald P. Koocher, PhD. "We must strive to keep his ideals prominent in our work."

Read George W. Albee's presidential address at APA's 1970 Annual Convention in the 1970 American Psychologist (Vol. 25, No. 12, pages 1071-1080).

DR. JOHN JANEWAY CONGER

Contemporaries of former APA President John Janeway Conger, PhD, knew him as someone who quietly but doggedly rose to the top of all he undertook.

He commanded a Navy destroyer escort--the U.S. Tweedy--in World War II. He became the U.S. Naval Academy's first chief psychologist. And he advanced from professor to dean at the University of Colorado School of Medicine to chancellor of the university's Health Sciences Center--the first U.S. psychologist to assume such high positions at a medical school, says Conger's former colleague Jerome Kagan, PhD.

"Not only was he dean, but he quickly earned a reputation among psychologists for his creative research on personality and psychopathology in adolescence, like on adolescent conflict between autonomy and family dependence," says Kagan.

Conger's career culminated in service on several U.S. presidential commissions and a 1981 term as APA president--political positions in which he promoted children's mental health and stronger families. He particularly emphasized adults' responsibility to the nation's youth.

"The future of individual families, whatever their form, will depend on...the degree to which we are able collectively to view ourselves as our brothers' and sisters', and above all, our children's keepers--all our children," he said in his presidential address at APA's 1981 Annual Convention.

A charmer

As steadfast as Conger's leadership resolve was his uniform of a blue blazer, preppie tie and gray pants, and his zeal for sailing, says another Conger colleague Nicholas Cummings, PhD. Cummings was APA past-president when Conger was president-elect, and he ribbed Conger--an Amherst College and Yale University graduate-- about both traits.

"We had a winter board retreat in Newport Beach, California, and John came towing his sailboat all the way from Colorado," chuckles Cummings, who himself prefers powerboats.

In turn, Conger teased Cummings for forcing the cancellation of a meeting of President Carter's Mental Health Commission because it was too close to Christmas. The two served together on the commission, and Cummings recalls that Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter enjoyed Conger's company.

"John was the commission's child expert, and she was interested in the subject," says Cummings. "But I think it was his sense of humor and charm that really captivated her."

A collaborator

The Carter connection also helped Conger land a position as vice president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, says Kagan.

In additional to being socially astute, recalls Kagan, Conger was an eloquent writer, even publishing some of his poems.

His writing and social skills also propelled his collaboration with Kagan and Paul Henry Masson, PhD, to produce the textbook "Child Development and Personality" (Harper & Row). The text set a precedent with its organization by developmental stage, rather than psychological topic. Not surprising for an effort involving Conger, by 1958 it was the leading textbook in the field, says Kagan.

Current APA President Gerald P. Koocher, PhD, remembers its influence. "When I was an undergraduate nearly 40 years ago, Conger's textbook provided my introduction to developmental psychology," he says. "It soon became a classic."

Reflecting on what drove Conger's interest in children and adolescence, Kagan guesses it was America's postwar fixation on parental influence.

"We believed back then that we could solve problems like schizophrenia and alcoholism by fixing childrearing," he says. Now genetic determinism is in vogue, says Kagan, but developmentalists like Conger have helped inform a complex picture of what shapes human behavior.

Read Dr. John J. Conger's presidential address at APA's 1981 Annual Convention in the 1981 American Psychologist (Vol. 36, No. 12, pages 1475-1484).