Dr. Seymour Sarason

Dr. Seymour B. Sarason, professor emeritus of psychology at Yale University and credited with founding the discipline of community psychology, died Thursday at the age of 91 in New Haven.

Professor Sarason joined the Yale faculty in 1945 and taught generations of students for five decades until his retirement in 1989. He published 45 books and numerous articles on psychology, education, and mental retardation. Born in Brooklyn in 1919, he was the son of the late Maxwell and  Anna (Silverlight) Sarason. He was married for 50 years until her death in 1993 to Esther (Kroop) Sarason. He is survived by a daughter Julie of Lowell, MA, her husband Paul Feuerstein, a grandson Nathaniel, a brother Irwin and his wife Barbara of Seattle, WA. He also leaves a brother-in-law Dr. Irving Kroop and his wife Eugenia of Brooklyn, NY. His companion was Dr. Irma Janoff Miller of Stratford. CT.

A funeral service will be held Sunday, January 31, 2010 2:pm at the Weller Funeral Home, 493 Whitney Ave., New Haven. The interment will be in the Beth Israel Cemetery, Fitch St., New Haven. To sign a memorial book please visit wellerfuneralhome.com.

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  1. Isaac Prilleltensky said,

    01.29.10 at 8:12 pm

    Dear Julie and Friends,

    I am deeply saddened by the loss of Seymour. After having read many of his books and articles, I invited him to a conference on prevention I was organizing for the Child Guidance Clinic of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1991. I was a school psychologist at the time, and had been greatly influenced by his work. I invited three giants of community psychology: Seymour, Emory Cowen, and George Albee. I was amazed when they all agreed to come. I think they all wanted to come because they wanted to see each other, which was wonderful. I was a fresh PhD, a great believer in prevention and community psychology, and basked in the glory of spending time with Seymour, George and Emory. They all gave great speeches. Seymour spoke, as usual, from a little piece of paper. Years after the conference people still remembered how eloquently he spoke without almost any notes for an hour. Having the three of them together was total magic. Now they are all gone. But what a privilege it was to be with them.
    I left Canada in 1999 for Australia and I lost touch with Seymour for a while. Upon my return to North America a few years ago we reconnected and a couple of years ago I visited Seymour. We spent two wonderful days together. It was a great privilege for me to spend some time with him by ourselves. As a young psychologist disillusioned with the status quo and with the profession he gave me inspiration, hope, idealism, and a good dose of skepticism. Seymour reviewed my first book The Morals and Politics of Psychology: Psychological Discourse and the Status Quo, for Contemporary Psychology. He was so incredibly generous. I could hardly believe he agreed to do the review in the first place. Of course, he thought I was too optimistic in my forecast of what psychology might contribute to society. He knew best.
    A couple of years ago, soon after I became Dean of the School of Education at the University of Miami, he showed great interest in what I was doing and warned me not to burn out. He kept telling me over the phone, Isaac, you’re doing too much. He would call to chat with my wife Ora, and with our son Matan. I regret that my family did not get to meet Seymour in person, though they heard about him from me all the time.
    I returned from my visit to New Haven a couple of years ago very moved. We talked politics, psychology, education, Judaism, work, family. It was extraordinary. Seymour was personally, intellectually, and morally inspiring. Despite his realistic skepticism about educational reform and much social progress he never stopped caring profoundly about people, friends, and the field of community psychology. I benefited tremendously from his mentorship, friendship, and exemplary scholarship. It was wonderful for me to read his work and identify with his thinking and professional ambitions.
    The field lost a giant of spirit and mind. I consider myself lucky to have gotten to know him. I will miss him dearly. I want his family to know that he left a tremendous legacy among many community psychologists and educators around the world. Many will mourn his loss, but even more will benefit from his legacy of sagacious inquiry, poignant critique of injustice, and love of people.
    Isaac Prilleltensky, Miami, Florida.

  2. philip sameroff said,

    01.30.10 at 12:58 am

    although it’s been many years since i have seen
    Seymour, I’ve always had fond feelings of our past times together which where always too brief. The 1st time I recall meeting him, he was parked in our driveway in Detroit with Julie in his arms and refused to get out of the car lest he awaken her. I thought him very strange. Once he came into the house his
    tremendous sense of humor and family dominated the rest of the visit. My brother was his friend and confidant, but I also feel great loss.

  3. Susan Waisbren said,

    01.30.10 at 10:32 am

    Seymour has been my mentor for over 40 years, now. I met him as an undergraduate in 1969. I was in the first graduating class of women at Yale and felt pretty isolated (usually the only girl in the classroom) and scared. When the school went on strike for May Day and there were no classes, I started volunteering at the New Haven Regional Center, where I was a Big Sister to a young woman with mental retardation. The staff there told me I should meet Dr. Sarason from Yale — and so I did when he next came to the Center. When I told him I enjoyed working in the field of mental retardation and asked him where the field was going, he promptly invited me to join him on a trip to Syracuse to meet Burt Blatt. On the way home, I told him how interesting I had found Dr. Blatt’s program, but that the young woman I was working with at the New Haven Regional Center needed a Halfway House. And then he said, “Why don’t you go ahead and start one? Go ahead! I’ll help you!” And so began Marrakech House (with the help of my friend, Francie Brody) and a lifelong friendship with Seymour. That’s the kind of man he was: thoughtful and action-oriented. He had boundless generosity of spirit, which is why so many of us feel we were special to him. He taught us all to look at problems from “around the side” rather than head on. He also taught us the folly of believing there’d ever be a time when there are no more problems. But he saw that as a reason to keep going, not to give up. I truly thank him for that. I’ve seen him periodically over the years, and quite a bit these past few years. He never ceased to amaze me with his knowledge, his sense of humor, and his compassion. I’ll miss him for many reasons, but most of all because I feel like my life’s safety net now has a gaping hole.

  4. Bob and Kate McGraw said,

    01.30.10 at 11:53 am

    Seymour, leader, mentor, and loving friend to so many of us. You will be part of our lives forever. Kate McGraw

  5. Michael Blank said,

    01.30.10 at 2:28 pm

    After graduating from Rochester and working with Emory Cowen and the illustrious group he had assembled at the Center for Communtiy Study, I spent a year at Yale as an RA. I remember that Seymour had vacated his office in the Psychology Department and let a group of RA’s and grad students use his office (much to the chagrin of at least several of the senior clinical faculty who were our less raucous neighbors). I read all his books and was thrilled to be asked to have lunch with him and talk boldly about how to use psychology to guide community change. He was generally procative, challenging and critical, but always in the kind and gentle way that characterized him. He was and is a great model of a psychologist, an academic, and a human being. His intellectual legacy will continue to influence many generations to come. We were lucky to have him.

  6. Rudy Hokanson said,

    01.31.10 at 9:50 am

    Seymour will always be special. When I told him how he was a spiritual guide, he pointed me to a passage in recent book he had written! “I did so consistent with what a rabbinic sage said centuries ago. — If I am not for myself who will be? If I am not for others, what am I? If not now, when?”

  7. Jessica Nicoll said,

    01.31.10 at 11:00 am

    Seymour’s embrace was enormous. He held us tight even as he gave us space for our own breaths. I will miss him even as I try to carry his generosity forward.

  8. Deborah Carver-Kloszewski said,

    01.31.10 at 11:16 am

    Seymour was a guiding light for John N Carver Phd and Nellie Enders Carver who were my Mom and Dad. Although I never met Dr. Sarason, I felt as though I knew him. “The Family of the Retarded Child” written by John N and Nellie E. Carver had the honor of being one in a series of four books entitled “Segregated Settings and the Problem of Change.” Seymour was one of the editors along with Burt Blatt and Harriett Blank.rlonl

    We have indeed lost a man who was kind and generous. He has left his mark on generations. For those who knew of him like myself, feel lucky. For those who don’t, his books will continue to keep his knowledge alive.

    Love and Best regards in this time of sorrow.

  9. Howard Kahn said,

    01.31.10 at 11:30 am

    For Julie, Family, friends colleagues and students of Seymour
    Seymour’s words to me, spoken many times, were “use me”.He wanted to help me to further my career and development as a Psychologist from the beginning of my pre-doctoral time at the Psycho-Educational Clinic at Yale 40 years ago,until just a short while ago as a mentor and friend.
    Once I didn’t let him help me, and there was a near disaster, but we survived, and I surrendered to his help with writing rarely finished,investment advice rarely followed,and general improvements in living heard but again rarely followed. But the help was so much more than concrete changes. It was in the imparting and sharing of wisdom in the intimate way of old friends.
    Dr. Sarason was a Psychologist, a title to which he brought honor and deep respect, and he was also an essayist in writing and in everyday conversation. All of our talks at lunches and dinners, sometimes alone or with Dr. Alan Towbin were informal seminars, ripe with sometimes breathtaking creativity and wisdom. These meetings were welcome interruptions in the day or after work, where Seymour was always the senior Professor, asking the just right questions for thought and development of our awareness of our lives; on psychology, politics, law, human frailty and heroism,music, theater.
    Seymour wrote On Aging, The One Life, One Career Imperative. This long essay is an exemplar of his way of enlightening; close to data and experience without a theory of development, but with a profound encouragement to spend our lives by creatively changing our path of growth within or outside of our chosen career. He lived, even through the greatest of personal losses,by this conviction, and he inspired us to do the same.
    I sadly say goodbye, professor and friend Seymour. You said at the end that I was helpful to you and you were proud of me. Your ideas and your endless generosity of spirit will always be a treasure for me.

  10. Rhona and Harvey Weinstein said,

    01.31.10 at 1:11 pm

    Seymour has been a vital and enduring part of our lives for 42 years, just months after we married and came to New Haven to study. Beloved mentor and friend to both of us, he made my career possible and he turned Harvey into a fellow community psychologist along the way. He was lovingly present to ask the hard questions (the “so what” question) and stayed to encourage us along, as we made our way in intellectual inquiry and in social action. There is not a day where Seymour’s voice is not heard, in Rhona’s head and heart. To Julie and family, and Irma, we deeply mourn his loss to you and to us.

  11. andy hargreaves said,

    01.31.10 at 5:39 pm

    I only met Seymour once. It was as a speaker to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his classic book on the Culture of the School and the Problem of Change. The session was a three tiered ballroom at the American Educational Research Association. There was standing room only and it wasn’t for me.

    I was able to describe how every original thought I felt I had had, Seymour had had it before me in that very book. From that moment, we developed a strange odd-couple affinity, and I was delighted by two subsequent events. One was to write a 3500 word biography in a book called 50 Modern Educators – the greatest living educators, that is. For this, I read just about everything he had written, including his own autobiography. It was an awesome and inspiring undertaking. I learned so much about him – about a man who had used his own suffering and marginalization to lift up all others around him and give them a chance; about an academic who had to endure the unreasonable scorn of colleagues for working across the academic/practitioner divide; about a public intellectual with an incisive mind and compassionate heart who was never co-opted by governments or bureaucracies and who could never be bought; about a man who saw the inanities of imposed reform that tried to change schools through regimes of fear rather than cultures of hope; about a Renaissance Man with an incredible breadth of vision and imagination from counselling psychology to performance art and about an advocate for students, for the nobility of the teaching profession, and for those who struggle all their lives with mental and physical disabilities.

    Seymour Sarason was and is my hero. He is a hero to so many others as well. He is a giant of educational change and always will be. We will miss him beyond measure.

    Andy Hargreaves
    Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education
    Boston College

  12. Frank McCarthy said,

    02.01.10 at 9:14 am

    Dr. Sarason was one of the founders of Marrakech Inc. in 1971. The organization provides housing and employment services to people with disabilities and it provides other services to people who are economically disadvantaged. Dr. Sarason, along with the othr two founders, Susan Waisbren and Francie Brody endowed the organization with timeless values that have sustained it for almost 40 years. Dr. Sarason was a leader in establishing community based services for people with mental retardation. He will be missed by the Marrakech community.

  13. May Kennedy said,

    02.01.10 at 9:35 am

    My sincere and heartfelt condolences to Seymour’s community of family, friends, colleagues and students. From my first encounter with “The Psychological Sense of Community” to my last vist to New Haven, a period of over 30 years, Seymour’s perspective, wide-ranging scholarship and humanity have influenced my work and enriched my life. His professional encouragement has meant more than I can say. I won’t be able to attend the memorial service, but I’ll be pondering his invaluable legacy and thinking about you all.


    02.01.10 at 12:49 pm


  15. Kuba Glazek said,

    02.02.10 at 1:18 pm

    Professor Sarason was an early mentor of mine. The day I met him I recall noticing that his home was filled with many exotic decorations and pieces of art. It was sunny. It is a very fond memory not only because of the surroundings, but because it is associated with the man who inhabited them. His appreciation and fostering of my intellectual interests was a major factor in cementing my decision to go to graduate school. I am writing this from my desk at Temple University, a lively, productive place where I am happy researching the cognitive processes underlying creativity, a topic that Dr. Sarason and I discussed each time we met. The art that adorned his apartment reminded me of how much he had helped me along the way. From reading the comments on this page, there is no doubt in my mind that a lot of people feel the same way I do. I hope that Dr. Sarason was aware of our sincere appreciation of him.

  16. Ann Lieberman said,

    02.03.10 at 4:42 pm

    Dear Julie and Irma,
    I was privileged to be one of Seymour’s friends on the education side.
    I first met him when, as a new professor, at Teachers College, I ran a conference and invited him as a speaker. The conference was entitled: Humanism and Competence. At the time there was a movement for “competencies” to change education. Needless to say, Seymour spoke about “humanism”. I later organized a session at AERA honoring the 25th anniversary of The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change.
    I had said to Seymour “I want to honor you while you are alive.”
    The session was to have younger scholars talk about how Seymour’s ideas had helped them grow their own. It was a huge success with over 250 people attending and many outside of the door. We had several other times where we were together, both socially and in various conferences. What I loved about him was his total lack of acting like a big shot, his generosity in nurturing thousands of us to write honestly about our work, and to develop a voice for teachers and teaching as one of the hardest and most misunderstood professions.
    He was quite simply a wonderful man! And he will remain in our hearts and minds forever.

  17. Priscilla Ellis said,

    02.08.10 at 10:09 am

    Dear Julie,
    I join countless others in celebrating your father’s amazing life and mourning his passing. Seymour’s wise, irreverent, engaged stance towards the world and its myriad problems – largely human-made – inspired and challenged me through graduate school and beyond. The generosity and capaciousness of his mind and heart will reverberate down through the generations.
    With deep sympathy to you and your family,
    Prill Ellis
    Yale PhD, 1978

  18. Christy Folsom said,

    02.08.10 at 3:32 pm

    Dear Julie,

    I did not know your father except through his writing, to which I was introduced at Teachers College Columbia University by Ann Lieberman. He did, however, send me a note a few years ago after I wrote him a letter thanking him for his influence. I, like Dr. Sarason, wondered why the explicit discussion of thinking and learning was not commonly found in classrooms. He stated that teachers reported to him that they had not been trained in their teacher education to have such discussions, and that even if they did, covering the curriculum allowed them little time to do so. These words helped form the foundation of my dissertation and my current work with teachers. I want you to know how much your father helped me articulate my questions and formulate Teaching for Thinking and Emotional Learning. Thank you for your part in sharing him.

    Christy Folsom
    Teachers College, Columbia University, Ed.D., 2000

  19. Dick Waite said,

    02.09.10 at 11:29 am

    Visiting Seymour was like walking into a warm house after trudging through the snow on a cold winter’s day. He was everything others have so eloquently put into words, and so much more. I know of no one more unselfish, empathetic, generous, showing us all the true meaning of love and friendship. His passing changes the fabric of our existence.
    Seymour was my professor for fifty-six years, not just of psychology, but of life. He taught me a little bit of Yiddish, defining a few words he considered important to a goy studying psychology— from chutzpah to meshugener to tuchis. But it was his life that defined the word MENTSH.
    Thank you, Seymour, for being so generous with you.
    Dick Waite

  20. Sidney Trubowitz said,

    02.10.10 at 11:44 pm

    A few years ago I participated on a panel acknowledging Seymour’s contributions in the fields of psychology and education at a celebration of his retirement from the Yale faculty. I remember announcing to the group my surprise at the breadth of Seymour’s contacts and involvement with others. I was under the impression that Seymour was mine and only mine for he was always available, always free with his time, always ready to support and encourage. I couldn’t imagine that this rare human being was mentor, friend, and idea stimulator for countless others and not just me.

    I first met Seymour through Saul Cohen who at that time was the newly appointed President of Queens College. The School of Education was in the doldrums, low on the reputation scale at the College. Saul, in his wisdom, recognized the importance and value of a college’s involvement in education at all levels. What better way to communicate to an Education faculty his respect for their work, what better way to indicate a college’s desire to be involved in what happens in public schools than to invite Seymour Sarason, renowned and respected author, to serve as consultant to a new endeavor, Queens College’s collaboration with the Louis Armstrong Middle School (I.S. 227). His regular visits, his questions, his suggestions encouraged and energized a faculty accustomed to a lack of respect and attention with the result that the collaboration’s innovative approaches received national attention and acclaim and to this day parents throughout the borough of Queens clamor to have their children attend a place they see as providing superior education.

    Visions of Seymour flit through my mind. I see him at his kitchen table, yellow pad and pencil in hand, writing, writing, writing. I hear his jokes tinged with Jewish irony, with characters like the pious Jew who when asked what’s it like to pray at the wailing wall night and day entreating the almighty for world peace and the elimination of poverty replied, “It’s like talking to a wall.” I recall his words of constant encouragement, pushing you past your comfort zone, showing his faith in your ability. I hear his gentle, prodding question, “Why not write a book about what’s happening?” with the result that two books and numerous articles later there is an extensive record of how a school-college collaboration can impact education.

    Seymour has left us but his legacy remains. It prevails in the ideas he communicated, in his writing, in the many books and articles he encouraged his mentees to write, in the schools and institutions that he helped to establish and that continue to this day. Seymour, you sure left your mark.

  21. Stephanie Yale Klaber said,

    02.13.10 at 8:29 am

    Seymour’s death is a loss at so many levels to so many people. He was a close friend to my late husband, Dr. M. Michael Klaber. They shared so much together as professional colleagues and as friends. It meant so much to us to have Seymour and Irma attend our wedding in 1997 and I am so personally grateful to Seymour for the touching eulogy he gave at Michael’s funeral in May, 2000. My condolences to Seymour’s family and loved ones.
    Stephanie Yale Klaber
    Simsbury, CT