Dr. Victor Goertzel

Author, civil libertarian and research psychologist Dr. Victor Goertzel died Sunday, May 23 in Seattle.
 

Victor Goertzel was born in Chicago on July 22, 1914 and moved to New York City as an infant with his parents, Sam Goertzel and Anna Wilson Goertzel. At nine he moved with his father, step-mother Shaindle, and step-sister Aida to Los Angeles, California where he exhibited an early commitment to principle and direct action by distributing a leaflet that countered an editorial in the high school paper which he felt unfairly criticized the Soviet Union and which the paper had refused to print as a letter. As a result of his free speech activities and despite the help of the ACLU, Victor was expelled from the school in his senior year. That did not deter his education or his activism-he graduated from University of California at Berkeley with a degree in psychology in 1938, going on to obtain a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1953, and spent a lifetime working on peace and social justice issues.

In the late thirties, Victor met his wife-to-be, Mildred George, a schoolteacher, and they traveled to Mexico, He married schoolteacher Mildred George in 1939 after a trip to Mexico where the couple became acquainted with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and discovered Quakerism. They were introduced to Babette Newton, wife of the American Friends Peace Secretary, who explained the tenants of Quakerism. Victor found that he shared many beliefs, especially nonviolence, with Friends. Some days later they met Arthur Morgan, a prominent Quaker who had been the first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and president of Antioch College. Victor did not know of his background and proceeded to tell Arthur Morgan all about Quakerism, his newfound interest, while Morgan listened patiently, never revealing his own background. Mildred recounted in a journal of that trip that Victor said " . . .the only church he liked was the Quakers. He has decided to be a Quaker. Just why I donít know, but I have no objection." As the son of a lifelong communist, Victor supported the ideals of revolution to improve the lives of workers, but disagreed with the means sometimes used, specifically the violent disruption of Socialist Party meetings by communist activists. The consistency demonstrated between the ends and means in Quaker life and thought spoke to his needs and principles and Victor and Mildred were members of various meetings where they lived for the rest of their lives.

They were married in 1939 and lived in Berkeley where they became members of Berkeley Meeting in 1940, and were subsequent members of Ann Arbor Meeting, Detroit Meeting, where Victor was clerk for two years, Ridgewood, N.J. Meeting, Palo Alto Meeting, and University Friends Meeting while Victor pursued a career as a clinical and research psychologist. With their three growing children Ted (b. 1942), John (b. 1945) and Penn (b. 1947) Victor and Mildred were regular attenders at Friends family camps sponsored by American and Canadian Quaker groups.

During World War II, Victor was involved in opposition to the relocation of Japanese Americans and volunteered for an appointment at the Japanese Relocation Center in Topaz, Utah. He was a high school and junior high school guidance counselor there and worked there to assist internees in adjusting to the situation. He initiated a program to allow interned young people to leave the camp to attend colleges on the East Coast and actively worked to gain admissions for those students.

Victor served as clerk of the Detroit Meeting, was active in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the War Resistors League. He and his family participated regularly in activities for nuclear disarmament and civil rights in New York and Washington, D.C. The family had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Martin Luther King at his home in 1957 when they brought an African American high school student returning home to Birmingham, Alabama after a school year in the north with a Quaker family. The family experienced then first-hand the reality of southern racial segregation during their auto trip as they sought food and lodging.

The major part of Victorís professional career was as a research psychologist working with mentally ill patients and those convicted of crimes. In Detroit, he and his colleague John Beard had some early dramatic successes with patients suffering from chronic schizophrenia. In the late fifties, he joined with John Beard in building Fountain House, a pioneering halfway house for former patients of mental hospitals in New York City. Fountain House anticipated the trend to integration of mental patients in the community, and highlighted the importance of offering services to these individuals. Victor maintained high standards of scientific rigor in evaluating the outcomes of treatment programs, even when the programs were not as successful as the organizers and funders had hoped.

From 1960-62 Victor was president of the National Association for Gifted Children. His interest in early influences on children led he and Mildred to begin a study of the childhoods of famous people, culminating in the publication of Cradles of Eminence (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1962). Based on existing biographical material of twentieth century people, the book distilled information on the roots of human creativity and leadership and became a classic in the field, in print for more than thirty years.

Other books followed; 300 Eminent Personalities (San Francisco: Josey-Bass Publishers, 1978), and their later work on the life of Linus Pauling that son Ted and grandson Ben completed with their publication of Linus Pauling: A Life in Science and Politics (New York: Basic Books, 1995).

In the 1960s, Victor and Mildred were leaders in the Ventura Peace Committee, which for several years sponsored weekly vigils for peace in response to the Vietnam War. They worked steadily on this issue for years writing letters, demonstrating and lobbying. Their peace activities continued when they joined Palo Alto Meeting in 1968 where they moved when Victor became associated with programs to return chronic mentally ill patients to the community and to provide alternatives to incarceration for adult offenders.

Upon retirement Victor and Mildred moved to Seattle in 1982 and joined University Friends Meeting where he was active on the Social Concerns Committee. He also participated in marches against US policy in Central America. For ten years he also served as a weekly complaint counselor at the Seattle office of the ACLU and was honored in 1993 with their Civil Libertarian Award for both his service to the organization and his lifelong commitment to civil liberties for all people.

Victor died on May 23, 1999 at age 84 in Seattle, leaving his wife, Mildred; his sons Ted and partner Linda Uhl of Medford, New Jersey; John and wife, Sue Ellen White of Langley, Washington; and Penn of Seattle; sister Aida Hunter of Santa Rosa, California; grandchildren Benjamin Goertzel, wife Gwen and children Zarathustra, Zebulon, and Scheherazade of Randolph, New Jersey; Rebecca Goertzel, partner Tony Mann and children Jaal and Lev of Issaquah; Tamara Guirado of Oakland, California; Mario Goertzel, wife Elizabeth and son Ari of Kirkland, Washington; Ariel Hansen of Langley, Washington; niece Lorah Goertzel of Chicago and close friend Diana Spencer of Seattle.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, May 30 at University Friends Meeting in Seattle at 1:00 p.m. followed by a light lunch; potluck welcomed. The family requests remembrances be made to University Friends Meeting, 4001 9th N.E., Seattle WA, 98105.