Volume 48 Number 4
Fall 2015

In Memoriam of George William Fairweather – Keeping Him In The CP Conversation

Written by Kwesi Craig C. Brookins (, North Carolina State University

AS_1_Bill_and_Betty_Fairweather_small.jpgWhat follows is a personal reflection on the life of George William (Bill) Fairweather. As you will see, Dr. Fairweather strongly influenced me in multiple ways, and it is a fair encapsulation of his life, there are others who can speak more intimately about him and his contribution. I offer it as one perspective on his community psychology life.

I began writing this my first day at the 2015 Biennial conference for the Society for Community Research and Action. It began with me sitting at an outdoor restaurant patio and noticing the people coming and going. The New England accent, the mostly White faces, and the lost conferees trying to find the front of the off-site hotel. It all took me back to the beginning of a life journey I began 35 years ago when I started graduate training in Ecological-Community Psychology at Michigan State University. This was the program started by George William Fairweather in 1969 and continued by a host of more than colorful characters, many with whom I am thankfully still connected.

I was a young Black man from the inner city of Chicago in 1981. Despite having attended a predominantly White private university as an undergraduate, I had never formed any real or lasting relationships with a White person. I grew up in the heart of the Black power and Blaxploitation era of the 60s and 70s. It was a time where Black communities were coming to understand and empower themselves in the heart of a racist and highly segregated city. Those experiences introduced me to the power of community, Blackness, and the possibilities of social change.

My orientation to the new life that graduate school was to offer began when I was met by Isidore Flores, a heavily bearded Mexican on a Harley motorcycle, who led me through the city of Lansing in search of an apartment. I, of course, had no greater experiences with Mexican people than I had with Whites, or Harley motorcycles, or bearded men. I would soon, however, come to understand that this was a perfect beginning for this new journey...although I would initially struggle with relating to almost all of these folks.

I had a couple of classes with Bill Fairweather those first two years although what I remember most were the individual or group conversations we had in his office. He was a storyteller and I like stories. Stories provide context and background. He had been a military man in WWII and several of those stories, so powerfully narrated in his 1994 mostly biographical book - Keeping the balance: A psychologist's story - helped me to understand how the past is prologue for the present and the future. What impacted me the most, however, was what I would call his 1972 Manifesto, Social change: The challenge to survival. Acknowledging the problematic of what was then most likely called chauvinist language, it nonetheless begins:

Never in the history of man has his survival been so seriously threatened as it is today. Every day, and with increasingly intensity, man is jeopardizing his own existence by mismanaging his environmental and human resources. Unresolved problems emerge and worsen daily. Most of them demean the quality of life itself. Unless man can clearly perceive that he is headed toward ecological and personal disaster and can therefore change his way of life, his future on this planet is in doubt." 

He goes on to write about the power of nonviolence, the ineffectiveness of violence, and the madness of war. He outlines the values that must guide the course of social change and lays out the need for and structure of an empirical science of social change, a model he had previously articulated in his 1967 book Methods for Experimental Social Innovation. While I was familiar with many Black writers and activists who had addressed these same themes, Bill Fairweather was the first White person with whom I had begun to build a relationship who was vocally expressive of these themes. His rhetoric matched what I too saw as necessary to build better communities and a better world. And perhaps most importantly, he connected it to a scholarship that provided a pathway for making it happen. In a very real way I suspect this helped me to push away some of the barriers I had erected towards relationships outside of my cultural comfort zone.

I was later to come to understand that his journey through WWII brought him to question the human experience in ways that paralleled my own as I was coming to terms with the experience of my immediate family and ancestors as they sojourned out of the blatantly racist deep south and into the more subtle but still discriminatory promise land of the north.

Dr. George William Fairweather died on January 24th, 2015. He was greatly responsible for my connection to Community Psychology. But he was mostly absent on the list of acknowledgements and tributes during the 2015 Biennial, although I must acknowledge that I don't recall him being a prominent presence within the official world of SCRA...but that is certainly how I saw him. He was most directly connected to the community mental health movement and transforming how the mentally ill are treated and can be active participants in the trajectory of their own lives (Fairweather, 1969). Indeed, he has been credited with having given birth to the "patients’ rights" movement and as a father of the "strengths-based" approach to mental illness. And his legacy continues through the work of the Coalition for Community Living that supports and promotes Fairweather Lodges Nationwide. In fact, most of the people I know connected to ECO (our affectionate name for the program) are not particularly connected to SCRA, although there are notable exceptions (Bill Davidson, Jim Emshoff, and others). 

So, Bill Fairweather was one of the progenitors of Community Psychology, having participated in the 1965 Swampscott Conference and founder of the MSU program in 1969 (Tornatzky, Fairweather and O'Kelly, 1970; Tornatzky, 1976). For me, however, his legacy is so much broader than that. He helped me on my journey of understanding that the struggle Black people were having in this country was not something for which only Black people were passionate about, nor would that struggle be won by only Black people. I learned from him to never prioritize my profession more than the things that really matter to me. For those of us who came through the ECO program, the directions our "Community Psychology" lives took have varied tremendously although rarely far from the belief that a meaningful life was one that made a contribution to the common good. His life was replete with experimental social innovation and dissemination (Fairweather, 1967; Gray, et al., 2003; Hazel and Onaga, 2003), and that is a worthy legacy to keep in the conversation.


 Coalition for Community Living, The. (2015). In memorial: Dr. George William Fairweather - 2/1/1921 to 1/24/2015. Retrieved from   

Fairweather, G. W. (1967). Methods for experimental social innovation. New York: Wiley.

Fairweather, G. W. (1969). Community life for the mentally ill; an alternative to institutional care. In 

George W. Fairweather and others, (Ed.), Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.

Fairweather, G. W. (1972). Social change: The challenge to survival. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

Fairweather, G. W. (1994). Keeping the balance : A psychologist's story. Austin: Fairweather Pub. and Art Works.

Fairweather, G. W. (1980). The fairweather lodge, a twenty-five year retrospective. In New directions for mental health services.  George W. Fairweather g. e. (Ed.), . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gray, D. O., Jakes, S. S., Emshoff, J., & Blakely, C. (2003). ESID, dissemination, and community psychology: A case of partial implementation? American Journal of Community Psychology, 32(3), 359-370. doi:10.1023/B:AJCP.0000004754.37080.57

Hazel, K. L., & Onaga, E. (2003). Experimental social innovation and dissemination: The promise and its delivery. American Journal of Community Psychology, 32(3), 285-294. doi:10.1023/B:AJCP.0000004748.50885.2e

Tornatzky, L. G. (1976). How a PhD program aimed at survival issues survived. American Psychologist, 31(22471), 189-192.

Tornatzky, L. G., Fairweather, G. W., & O'Kelly, L. I. (1970). A PhD program aimed at survival. American Psychologist, 25(92470), 884-888.

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