Ruth McClendon, MSW, Past President of ITAA, passed away on June 22, 2023.
We share these photos and memories that were provided by John McNeel, PhD, TSTA.
I am honored to share my memories of Ruth. Here is a picture of the June 1971 workshop at the Western Institute for Group and Family Therapy. This was the first four-week workshop that Bob and Mary ever conducted and historically it was quite an event. Ruth is to the left in the second row standing next to George McClendon who would become her husband.
Ruth was a future president of ITAA as was Vince Gilpin standing over on the right. Harris Peck has his arm around Vince. Harris ran a notable training institute in NYC. There are also four future members of the WIGFT faculty in that workshop: me, Jim Heenan (with his arm around me), Ruth and George, a rich haul.
When I met Ruth in 1971, she was Ruth Millar, her name from a previous marriage. At the time she was a well-respected therapist from Ann Arbor, Michigan. We met one another at the Western Institute for Group and Family Therapy, the brainchild of Bob and Mary Goulding located on Mt. Madonna overlooking Monterey Bay. It was clear during our month-long training that Bob and Mary held her in high regard for her penetrating intelligence and clinical skill. It was not surprising they invited her to join their faculty shortly after that workshop and she subsequently moved from Ann Arbor to the Monterey Bay area.
Ruth was an early proponent of and an expert in family/systems therapy. She put the “Family” in the title of the Institute: The Western Institute for Group and Family Therapy. Until she came along no one on the faculty taught that discipline. The word, “family” was included in the title because the famous founder of family therapy, Virginia Satir was a founder. When it became clear to Virginia that Bob was going to marry Mary Edwards (Goulding) and not her, she decamped, but that portion of the title remained.
Ruth, along with her husband George McClendon, and later Les Kadis, was a clinical phenom, so much so that Ellyn Bader conducted her dissertation research on one of her week-long family workshops. She was a no-nonsense therapist, brilliant and tough when she needed to be. She also contained an infinite sweetness in caring for people in moments of vulnerability.
My wife Penny and I spent one weekend a month with Ruth and George training with them in family therapy. The training was held on the seaside at Pajaro Dunes, just outside of Watsonville. For both my wife and I it was one of the great learning experiences of our lives, as well as being great fun. Ruth followed the WIGFT tradition of providing comfortable housing and delicious food in beautiful settings.
In remembering Ruth, I wish to share two different memories, one profound and the other apocryphal.
Ruth McClendon saved the ITAA from obliteration. I know of no other way to say it. She was president of ITAA during the ethics crisis regarding Jacqui Schiff. Bill Cornell edited a special edition of the TAJ this past year dedicated to preserving the history of that tumultuous time. I authored an article for it, “Memories of a Young Man.” In that article I am unstinting in my admiration of her courage, stamina, and willingness to experience self-sacrifice for the greater good. She came into her presidency full of optimism, energy and plans for the further expansion of ITAA which was growing exponentially in that time. We will never know what direction she might have taken us had her entire term not been consumed by that needless tragedy. One can only imagine. I have known few human beings I respect as much as Ruth. I was on the Board. I was in the trenches. I saw her fortitude and determination up close, and I saw what it cost her.
My second memory is one that was related to me. Ruth was famous for being plain spoken and not holding back comments on what she was observing. The truth is, she scared some people, but brilliant people often do. She was somewhere in the mid-west putting on a training workshop. She was about to interview a live family in front of the workshop participants. The coordinator of the workshop, knowing her reputation, pulled her aside and asked her to “go easy” on the family. “They are a nice family.” Ruth nodded her understanding of the request, and the family came in, four children and two parents. They all made nice for a few minutes until Ruth pointedly scanned the family and said, “Why is everyone in this family so fat?”
I tip my hat to this great soul and feel ever so thankful she was part of my life, friend, colleague, exemplar, and teacher.
— from John McNeel