John Robert Newbrough: A Remembrance

This wiki serves as a respository for recent comments on the passing of John Robert Newbrough. SCRA members can edit thie wiki page to add their own refelctions or use the comment feature below. 

View the scrapbook given to Bob's family by SCRA. 

Please donate to the J.R. Newbrough Memorial Fund  - to promote community partnerships and international collaboration - HERE.

John Robert Newbrough

The Tennessean - Nashville, Tenn.

Date: Jan 20, 2013

NEWBROUGH, John Robert "Bob" PhD--Professor Emeritus at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, collapsed suddenly at a family gathering in Boulder, CO, and died on New Year's Day surrounded by his wife Lynn, her family, and his daughters Jennifer, Suzanne, and Andrea. He died as he lived - fast and well. Bob was born May 30, 1934, to John W. and Margaret Newbrough of Wendell, ID. From his father, a farmer, he learned to appreciate the land and the importance of community in working together to bring in the harvest. From his mother, a teacher, he learned to love books and the exchange of ideas. He attended a two-room school through 8th grade and graduated valedictorian from high school at age 16. He earned his BA, magna cum laude, from the College of Idaho and his PhD in psychology from the University of Utah. He spent summers as a smokejumper, parachuting out of airplanes to fight forest fires in the Sawtooth Mountains. At age 25, Bob began a Fellowship in Lindemann and Caplan's historic program in Community Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He then joined the Public Health Service and worked at the National Institute of Mental Health. In DC, Bob cultivated his passion for sports cars, serving as editor of the Porsche Club Newsletter and competing in car rallies. In 1966, Bob was recruited by Dr. Nicholas Hobbs to join the faculty in Psychology at Peabody College and establish the Center for Community Studies. Bob was one of the founders of the new field of Community Psychology and edited the Journal of Community Psychology for many years. A key figure internationally, Bob collaborated with colleagues in Latin America, Australia, and Europe and established an exchange program between Peabody and a university in Guadalajara. He earned the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research and Theory from the Society for Community Research and Action. He was a long-time board member of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving and valued advisor to Mrs. Carter. He was a treasured mentor to numerous students and colleagues who recall his wise counsel, generous support, and talent for bringing forth the strengths and gifts of others. Although Bob retired in 2002, he remained active at Peabody, advising doctoral students, and in the community, where he recently began organizing a local initiative to promote civil discourse across the political spectrum. Bob is survived by his wife of 30 years Lynn Walker, daughters Jennifer Speer (Keith) and Suzanne Diaz (Juan) of Nashville and Andrea Simmons (Bryan) of Crossville, their mother Loneta Behrens; eleven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren; his sister, Mary Ann Dodson (Jack); and uncle, Walter Mrachek of Emmett, ID; cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends around the world. The family appreciates the professionals who helped Bob stay active while living with Parkinson's Disease for more than 20 years: Michael Cooper, Peter Konrad, Ralf Habermann, Robert Sewell, Lihua Sheng, Barbee Majors, Barb Batson, Rebecca Saindon, and Debbie Ashton. Gratitude also to Robert Dorris and Beth Gwinn who assisted Bob at home and to the numerous strangers who came to his aid as he navigated his walker with determination up stairs, across streets, and amongst crowds at community events. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: The JR Newbrough Memorial Fund, established by the Society for Community Research and Action, 4440 PGA Blvd #600, Palm Beach Gardens FL 33410 or at: (where tributes also may be found). A memorial service will be held Saturday, January 26, 2 p.m. at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, 1808 Woodmont Blvd.

From friends and colleagues: 


I'm deeply saddened to have to report the sudden passing today of Peabody College/Vanderbilt University Prof. Emeritus Bob Newbrough.  I know how important Bob was to many on this list.  He was a key figure in the founding of Community Psychology in the United States and a good friend of scholars and practitioners internationally for over half a century.  He edited the Journal of Community Psychology for many years, earned the SCRA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research and Theory, and remained very active intellectually and, despite advanced Parkinson's disease, as physically active as he could manage since his retirement 9 years ago. ~Doug Perkins

I had some contacts with bob over the years...he was always positive, supportive, and encouraging...his memory shines a light on our continuing efforts for equity and social justice. ~Marc Zimmerman

This is indeed very sad news. Bob was one the most special people I have met in Psychology -- as both a professional and a friend. He made time and gave encouragement. Even at this long distance, he kept a mentoring eye on some of us. He will truly be missed. As a strange coincidence, I received a card in the mail from Bob just yesterday (even though it was sent a few weeks ago). As usual, he was asking both about me personally and my work. My thoughts are with Lynn and the family, as well as his friends and colleagues at Peabody. ~Adrian Fisher

A great man has indeed left us.  Like he was to everyone, Bob was very good and kind to me. I will always remember him dearly and with admiration. ~Camilla Benbow, Dean, Peabody College of Education, Vanderbilt University

I, too, am deeply saddened by this loss. When I think of Bob and my time as his student, I think of his calm, sensitive, inquisitive, kind, and generous nature. In addition to these qualities, I also think of how Bob was a social networker, cheerleader and peacemaker. One of Bob's favorite things to do was to connect people. No matter what the problem, Bob knew some one (or knew some one who knew some one) who could help - from figuring out how to connect to researchers interested in similar issues internationally to getting a car fixed on a grad student budget, Bob and his trusty address book could always help. Bob was also always there with a sympathetic ear and an encouraging word or even useful strategies for how to navigate sticky situations. It seemed that whenever I was struggling with something, Bob would call with an invitation to walk to lunch or meet at his house for tea. From health problems to the frustrations of graduate school, I always left these meetings feeling a little stronger and better prepared to handle my challenge. Additionally, Bob was also a peacemaker. He did not like conflict and because of this, he was quite skilled in calming situations and finding middle ground. I saw this with his founding of the CRA program at Peabody (with Paul and Jeanne) and with the way he facilitated discussions between very disparate views among my dissertation committee members. Throughout the challenges of graduate school and ever since, Bob has been supportive (emotionally and intellectually), encouraging, and eager to help. The field of community psychology has lost a brilliant researcher and practitioner but the world has lost one of the nicest and most thoughtful people I have ever had the honor of knowing. I wholeheartedly support Irma's suggestion to dedicate this upcoming biennial to Bob. My heart goes out to Lynn and his daughters and grandchildren as well as the numerous others who are grieving this loss. ~Stephanie Reich

I am trully saddened and moved by these news of Bob's death. Bob was kind, thoughtful and always cared for others. He was one of the first community psychologists to think internationally. He was very active for some years in The Interamerican Society of Psychology and a pioneer in recognizing the importance of Latin America for community psychology. He visited Puerto Rico on various occassions fostering debate and growth in our program. He was my friend and I will miss him. I wish Lynn and his family fortitude and solidarity in these difficult times. I believe SCRA should dedícate the next Biennial to his memory. ~Irma Serrano-García

I don't have a worthy response to Bob's passing. Bob was a person good beyond anything anyone could honestly capture. He lived community psychology in his being and in his living and in the love he gave to every aspect of the field and every attention to students and colleagues in the Peabody program and, really, to all of us. I never had the honor (of being associated directly associated with Bob and Peabody), but it didn't take much to get a taste of what this was about, in so many ways, in such short periods and conversations. Bob was brilliant, and lived our priciples, and he was innovative and he cared for all of us in ways hard to explain. No list of publications explain why or how his life represented what was good in what we, in community psychology, try to be about. This is all painful for me. I would love to hear from Peabody students and others, and anyone impacted by Bob, in any way, so we can learn from who he was. Stories of Bob's being and his messages are I think invaluable to all of us. I have more to say, and will, but I think we would all rather hear from everyone who knew him best. ~Brad Olson

Thanks to Jill Robinson for providing the attached tribute to Bob Newbrough, written by the late Jack Glidewell for the ceremony honoring Bob with the SCRA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Theory and Research at the APA meeting in Los Angeles, August 14, 1994 (published in the American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 3-7, 1995). Jill speaks for all of us here in the Program in Community Research & Action at Vanderbilt: "It broke my heart to hear the news. He was always supportive of me… It was an honor and a privilege to know him." ~Doug Perkins

I too am saddened by the loss of a dear friend and colleague. My sadness, however, is not for Bob who regardless of your beliefs, is in a better place, but for his family, friends and colleagues. They and we will no longer have access to his wisdom, his humor and especially his kindness. If we want to truly celebrate Bob's life and work, let's each take time in our respective courses to discuss what, in our view, were his major contributions to community research and action. Let's make certain that in years to come the current students in our undergraduate courses and especially our graduate programs when presented a reference with Bob's name or hearing his name in a lecture or discussion do not ask "who" but rather nod appreciatively at his importance to our field. ~Raymond P. Lorion

I too would like to express my sadness for loosing such a great thinker and human being. When I came to Vanderbilt University as an exchange student from Germany it was Bob who inspired me to pursue a career in community psychology. He was the perfect example of how to be a research activist and live what you preach. His compassion and value for the well-being of others shined through his work and his life. As such he was a great role model for many of us students. His theoretical contributions, such as the Third Position paper, have been critically important in my own thinking about society and community. His CP class was one of my favorite classes during graduate school and I remember very fondly his historical account of CP that started with the Peace of Westfalia, which was settled in my hometown Muenster. He will be greatly missed and my thoughts are with his family and close friends. Let's celebrate him and what he stands for at the next Biennial, as suggested, and maybe by devoting a special issue of JCP to him. ~Manuel Riemer

Bob convinced me to move to Vanderbilt and had the privilege of working with him for a few years while I was at Peabody. Bob was a brilliant thinker, an exceptional human being, a humble person, and a giant in our field. He embodied the qualities and values community psychology in everything he did. Our offices were in the same suite and I greatly enjoyed being mentored by him. At one point we asked him to become the "critical friend" of our research team because we could all learn so much from him. It is very hard to say goodbye to such wonderful role model. He did much to create the thriving interdisciplinary community program at Peabody. He was a gem of a person, a caring person, and magnificent community psychologist. ~Isaac Prilleltensky

I am also deeply saddened by the passing of Bob Newbrough. Bob was a passionate community psychologist and a remarkable human being. He embodied the field with conviction and passion. Around1994, Bob had sought to infuse the generative spirit of community psychology through his initiative to create a cohort of community action research centers (CA-RC). He believe that "Centers for community research have had the critical mass of resources and focus of interest necessary to launch work that has defined our field and to facilitate its forward movement". He believed that it was time for community researchers who direct centers for community research and action to come together. He envisioned CA-RC will help connect researchers with other research centers nationally and from around the world, particularly those studying issues related to the development and use of organized power in community and systems change. A feature of the Center that embodies the "Woods Hole" vision of Jim Kelly and Bob was that centers will function as hubs of community research, and will network in ways that strengthen each-other to build community capacity for change. Maybe in his honor, we should consider reviving this idea. Bob was also a remarkable human being. Over the years, we became close friends and he stayed at our home several times when in Chicago. In one of his latest trip he arrived on a Halloween day. He had come for a meeting of community psychologists. That evening he was delighted to give out candy and visit with the children coming to our door trick-or-treating. I also remember him playing air hockey with our youngest sons. On another trip to Chicago, we traveled together to an Eco-Community conference in Michigan. Our 4 hour trip became an 8 hour trip. Late into the evening we had a flat tire in the middle of the road, somewhere in Indiana. With the van full of people (Bob Newbrough, Nelson Portillo from EL Salvador, Manolo Garcia from Spain, our two sons and Fabricio and I), while desperately looking for an open car shop in rural Indiana at 8pm at night, Bob's sense of humor, stories of community psychology and incredible optimism kept us quite entertained for hours. We made it to the Eco-conference at 12am! That extra time with Bob was worth as he had so much to share. We will miss his inspiration, his capacity to connect people, his vision for the field, his great sense of humor, and a trusted friend. ~Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar

Bob Newbrough was indeed a wonderful person who exemplified the spirit of community psychology. He was a leader at Swampscott and a leader in the growth of international connections and perspectives in our field. We will all miss his kind, thoughtful, inclusive style. As I read what his students and colleagues and others have said, every note rings true to me. I just want to add a small memory of Bob, which also exemplifies him as a person and as a community psychologist. In late 1973, maybe early 1974, I was an undergraduate at a little college in Tennessee, looking for a way to pursue my interests in psychology and in the life of local communities. My advisor, a social psychologist, had been a student at George Peabody College and had taken a course with Bob in something called community psychology. With my advisor's support, I wrote Bob a letter about my interest in community psychology, asking for any reprints (what a sign of ancient times that request is now) or other writings that he could share about this field, which might help me understand it better. This is the kind of request that is easy for a busy academic and national leader in psychology to overlook or assign to someone else. However, surprisingly quickly, I received a thick envelope in the mail from Bob, containing a personal note thanking me for my interest along with several published reprints and unpublished papers. These were a joy to read and kindled my interest in this new field. Although I did not end up going to grad school at Peabody (now Vanderbilt) I am forever indebted to Bob for his kindness and his willingness to respond warmly to a student he did not know and to whom he had no obligation. Those who have worked more closely with Bob have even better memories to share, and I am enjoying reading them. Thanks to all of you! And Yolanda, thank you for assembling things for Bob's family! ~Jim Dalton

It is hard for me to write at this time as I am deeply heartbroken. Bob is my greatest mentor and an irreplaceable friend. I am very proud to be one of his students. His spirit indelibly marks all of my work - propelling it in breadth and depth. I have lost my greatest champion. I met Bob when visiting Peabody to find a graduate program. I spoke with him and Isaac at length and left with the knowledge that Peabody was the right home for me. Since then, he has been involved in almost all of my research and action. I always knew that I could go to him with the biggest to the smallest ideas or challenges and he would open my eyes to a new perspective. His practical knowledge and ability to dynamically think ecologically were unmatched. This ability was paired with an immense humanity and humility that are rare in such great people. I always knew that I'd hit on something good when he would say "Full steam ahead!" when I was leaving. I can't begin to list all of the important lessons that I learned from Bob. I will try to sum up the greatest ones (Please forgive my writing and thinking on these. I'm not at my best):
1. You are only a true friend of a team, a person, or a process if you are willing to embrace critical engagement. I first learned this working with Isaac and Doug where, as Isaac mentioned, Bob acted as the critical friend. He helped us all to look at our ideas, actions, and team processes to avoid zealously running down the wrong path. He was a master of critical engagement; I am still in awe of his work.
2. One of the greatest skills of a community psychologist is the ability to seamlessly step into a community process and become a part of its workings, followed by the ability to step outside of the process and see its workings and context with fresh eyes (Simultaneously working yourself out of a job). Taking the Third Position - instead of merely taking sides - is integral to understanding and acting toward community well-being. Bob was always happier with brilliant results that stemmed from a good process than appearing as the brilliant leader himself (Even when he deserved it).
3. There is no replacement for direct, human contact. You can try to think around and through any challenge, theory, or research. Or, to use Bob's method, you can meet, call, or write someone to clear things up in a relative instant. I recall being in a small seminar that Bob was leading. We were struggling with pinning down the tangible effects of empowerment evaluation in a text by Abraham Wandersman. As students often do, we went back and forth with the text until Bob go out the phone, called Wandersman, and had us ask him directly. He turned an unproductive academic debate into an exchange of real information and ideas. This can be difficult at times, especially when the person you want to talk to doesn't have time for you. Bob had a solution to this too: There was a person that Bob wanted to make a connection with (I don't recall all the details) that didn't have time for him. After several unanswered letters, Bob did some research. Apparently, the man in question collected beach sand from around the world and kept it in small jars. Bob began sending his letters with beach sand from his travels and started a long and fruitful exchange.
There are many more important impacts that Bob had on me and many others. His ideas and actions were grand but patently practical. Still, more than anything, I will miss his kind face and positive attitude. Through all of his health challenges over the years I have known him, he has always remained pragmatically optimistic and deeply caring. I'm sure this prolonged his life but, more importantly, it made him a continued example of what being a truly good person looks like. I will always have Bob in my heart and mind as a true example of integrating high moral character with the complexities of work and life.
I am joyful revisiting my memories of Bob but heartsick that I will not be making any more memories. I think I've probably gone on long enough. I would like to propose a session at SCRA to talk about Bob's contributions and tell stories of his great life. I would be pleased to organize such a session. Please let me know if you have interest in talking more formally or if you'd just like to show up and talk. (As an aside, I had the thought that I could call Bob to ask him about an idea while writing this. It's going to take a while to stop having that thought.) ~Courte Van Voorhees

I have such fond memories of Bob and cannot begin to describe all the gifts Bob gave me during my years at Vanderbilt and beyond. While we were working together on a community asset mapping project with youth in East Nashville more than a decade ago, he suggested I apply for the brand new Community Research and Action program at Vandy to be part of the first cohort. At the time, I had no plans to return to graduate school for a PhD but my experience with him during that action research project and his genuine belief in me won me over. How could I not be a part of something he helped to create? One other Bob moment stands out to this day that exemplifies the kind of person he was. Nine years ago we held a retirement ceremony of sorts in our department in Peabody College of Vanderbilt to celebrate Bob and his contributions to the school. After the ceremony, he approached me and asked how my dissertation research was going and inquired about my family. We talked for several minutes and I felt like I was the center of attention. I then watched him as he engaged many others in attendance in the same warm, selfless, caring fashion. At a time when we were there to celebrate him, he was more interested in us and our stories. In so many ways he was a great role model, friend, and mentor. ~Scot Evans

Early in my career, when Bob was editor of the Journal of Community Psychology, I contacted him about the possibility of my editing a section of a JCP issue on field training in community psychology.   I'm pretty sure he had no idea who I was.  He responded by suggesting that I co-edit the section with a more senior person in the field.  That individual initially agreed, but then bowed out a number of frustrating months later.  I contacted Bob again, fully expecting that he would say that I needed to find another senior person to work with on this project.  To my surprise, he replied, "Heck, you can do this on your own.  Go for it."  So I did.  Thanks, Bob. ~Mike Morris

I too wish to commiserate with all those who's lives were touched by Bob at his death. I first met Bob at the 3rd SCRA conference in Tempe. We developed a shared sense of what community psychology was and should be. I do not wish to reiterate his achievements, which have been many and have been reflected on by others.
I wish to remember Bob for his friendship, generosity, support and intellectual stimulation. Two images of Bob keep coming to my mind. One was the boyish glee he had when making Sarsaparilla and ice-cream spiders, while recuperating form surgery. He couldn't go any where until he had finished.  The second image was in front of the unit Pam and I rented while on sabbatical at Peabody. It was my last day there and I was to drive his daughter Suzanne's car which Bob had lent us to his house, where he would take us to the airport. Having secured the door to the unit and returned to the car I attempted to get into the right hand side driver's seat, an error I had overcome during my stint in the US. Bob's comment was that I was obviously ready to go home. This simple comment reflects immensely on his intellectual subtlety, gentleness, understatedness (he fitted so easily into Australian culture), and sense of humour. His loss will not only be felt in the USA, but in Australia and New Zealand where his guile and sensitivity meant he brought us gifts without any sense of hegemony. He will be greatly missed, and in time, very fondly remembered. ~Brian Bishop

Thank you for your kind offer to collect stories on Bob's impact. Iconsidered all the faculty in the community program at Peabody College, Vanderbilt as mentors. They all impacted who I am as a professional indifferent ways, but the spirit of how I approach my work and who I am as a community psychologist are due to Bob. Even as a felt his loss greatly yesterday I found myself also sharing stories. Bob was everything everyone else has already said - a beautiful, gentle person with a beautiful spirit, ever the negotiator, ever the resource, and always willing to listen. I remember many things but the one that sticks out is how much he loved to drive. I remember we held a conference at Vanderbilt one year and arranged a trip to the Highlander Research and Education Center for participants. I was driving and Bob and Don Klein were in my car. Bob kept commenting on my driving and on the posted speed limit. I commented that the speed limit he was referring to was directed to truck drivers and not to us. I really don't know what made him nervous about my driving but on the return trip he asked to drive. Even though I ended up as afraid of his driving as he had been of mine I was always willing to ride in a car when Bob wanted to drive. His body may not have always been reliable but the body of a car did exactly what Bob wanted. He was in a zone when he drove and to remember him driving is to remember him happy. ~Theresa Armstead

Very sad news! Bob was one of the most influential figures in my academic life and changed my attitude toward psychology and its relevance to every theoretical, practical and applied aspects of life. He was my mentor and later a very close friend of mine. I learned many valuable lessons from him. He was a natural leader, an innovator thinker, an excellent organizer, a mentor, a teacher, and above all a person with so many admirable human capabilities. He played a fundamental role in the careers and lives of his students and colleagues. The quality that inspired me most and I believe many others, was Bob¹s passionate and extraordinary competence to communicate, to bring different topics and ideas together and finally to co-create. Bob and Lynn were my sponsors in my last visit to Peabody (2009) and we had many lively discussions in many different occasions. I never forget their hospitality and generosity. The last time that I heard Bob¹s voice was last summer when I was in Eugene, Oregon. He asked about my family and the things that I was doing at the University of Oregon. He was always concerned about the lives of his students and friends. He truly made a difference, and the world is a far better place for his having been here. As a Peabody family member I deeply sympathize with his family, all of my mentors, colleagues, friends and students on this terribly sad occasion. ~Habib Ghassemzadeh

I am penning these words while still trying to find meaning in the passing of my own father last Friday 12/28. So it is sadness all around. I came to Peabody when Bob had already retired, and I did not have the chance to take any formal class from him. However, I was privileged to visit him a few times at home and I remember him as a kind, humble, unassuming, wise, and very empathetic gentleman who loves chocolate. During one of our very first meetings, he felt the need to explain in an apologetic tone, that my former boss, the first African-American faculty at Peabody College, was not treated very well during her short time in the program. He then made an appointment and walked me to the office of the director of Vanderbilt Institute of Global Health who later became a very helpful member of my dissertation committee and post-doctoral fellowship applications. He was one of the very few faculty members I felt comfortable enough calling by his first name without feeling that I violated any etiquette. This may be so because he was the first person to call me at my home in Silver Spring, MD to inform me that I was accepted in the CRA program. Even in his retirement and despite his health challenges, he remained active and helpful, and was always excited at the opportunity to lend intellectual support to students. I remember all too well the greeting from his old voicemail: "This is Bob Newbrough answering by machine." I tried to set up my own voicemail like his, but it did not work quite well.  Just like the recent death of my own father whose health seriously deteriorated in the last two years, I see Bob's death as a transition from suffering to freedom. He is free at last. ~Akhenaten Tankwanchi (formerly known as Benjamin Siankam)

Bob's impact for me can be summed up in the simple fact that when I heard the news, in Western Australia, on the other side of the world, I wept. Even so far away Bob's kindness, care and integrity had an irreversible impact on my life. I have the deepest respect for Bob's incredible mind and genius capacity to conceptualize. I hold his contribution to our field in the highest regard and loved how he offered his great intelligence in such a quiet, understated way. His amazing capacity for complex thought combined with his immense integrity made him a wise elder whose impact was great. His legacy is a strong one for me because he touched not only my mind but held the heart as well. I will never forget him and know how lucky I was to meet and know him. ~Katie Thomas

1 Comment

OfflineJoseph Ferrari Joseph Ferrari said 15 months ago

I just learned of the passing of Bob.  I was not his student in the formal sense, and I would call us close friends.  But Bob was there when I attended a SCRA meeting, a gathering of 27 members, or some professional event == and he had a smile that was broad and welcoming.  That is Bob ~~ a gentle man, with passion and compassion.  He was someone you just liked, cause he liked you and was interested in you.  He taught me to place others first; he taught me to welcome new comers and the person on the fringe and marginalized.  A man not into titles or accolades = just welcoming.  I miss him already, and deeply sorrowed.  If you believe in the power of prayer, I ask that today you say a prayer TO Bob, not FOR Bob.  Ask him to help us all live his model of compassion, to remember as he showed us there is unity in our commonness, and that is community.  Thanks Bob for all you showed and taugh us.    ~ Joe Ferrari

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