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Remembrance

Joseph Veroff (1929-2007)

This article has been generously provided by Josef Veroff's colleagues at the University of Michigan and the Institute for Social Research.

Joseph Veroff, a professor of psychology and research scientist at the Institute for Social Research (ISR), died peacefully on September 30th, 2007, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 77. Veroff’s life and work touched many SPSSI members. Veroff was SPSSI program chair in 1990-91, and published some of his early work in the Journal of Social Issues, including “African students in the United States” in 1963, and “Initial effects of desegregation on the achievement motivation of Negro elementary schoolchildren” (with S. Peele) in 1969.

Veroff was born on November 23, 1929 in Hartford, Connecticut. He received his BA in 1950 from Wesleyan University, and his MA (1952) and PhD (1955) from the University of Michigan. He was an instructor at Princeton University in 1955-56, and then returned to the University of Michigan as a study director at the ISR Survey Research Center. In 1975, he was named a faculty associate at ISR and in 1985; he became an ISR research professor.

In 1960, Veroff co-authored a landmark study with Gerald Gurin and Sheila Feld entitled “Americans View their Mental Health.” Based on almost 2500 phone interviews, the study reported how Americans felt they had adjusted to and coped with problems of daily life. Subsequently, Veroff directed another study tracing how American values, behavior and attitudes toward work, marriage and parenthood shifted during the 1960s, a critical time for the nation. With Elizabeth Douvan and Richard Kulka, Veroff co-authored two influential books based on findings from two nationally representative ISR surveys on these topics: "The Inner American: A Self-Portrait from 1957 to 1976" and "Mental Health in America: Patterns of Help-Seeking from 1957 to 1976."

Veroff co-authored several other books, including "Marital Instability: A Social and Behavioral Study of the Early Years," with Douvan and Shirley Hatchett, and "Thrice Told Tales: Married Couples Tell Their Stories," with Diane Homberg and Terri Orbuch. These volumes are based on data from the ISR Early Years of Marriage Project, initiated in 1986.  "His early work on human motivation — for example in his book with his wife Joanne Veroff on 'Social Incentives: A Lifespan Developmental Approach' — stimulated decades of research in personality psychology," says David Winter, a colleague in psychology. "At the same time, he was always careful to understand individual personality in broader American social contexts, including age, race, class and gender." In his last book, "Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience," written with Fred Bryant of Loyola University of Chicago, Veroff focused explicitly on measuring and studying the "capacity to attend to, appreciate and enhance the positive experiences in one's life." With Douvan, Veroff was a founding member of the Family and Sex Roles Program (later the Life Course Development Program) at ISR.

Veroff also made significant contributions to the Department of Psychology. After serving as a lecturer, the university promoted him to assistant professor in 1958, associate professor in 1962, professor in 1967. Veroff served as the graduate chair for many years. He taught and mentored generations of young scholars with a combination of high intellectual standards, clear expectations of hard work, research, a wry and clever sense of humor, and good food. "It is hard to pass the old Veroff house on Granger without thinking of the many casual get-togethers for faculty and students, replete with wonderful home-cooked dishes, engaging conversation and good company that he and Jody provided for scores of scholars over the years," said Toni Antonucci, the Elizabeth M. Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology, director of the ISR Life Course Development Program and a former post-doctoral fellow.

Other colleagues remembered Veroff as a respected and beloved teacher and mentor, who pioneered in supporting, nurturing, and training the graduate education and career development of underrepresented groups in psychology. "I, and many other women who got their doctorates in psychology when women were still a small minority in the profession, had successful outcomes only by the good fortune of working with someone as respectful and encouraging as Joe Veroff," says Wendy House, a former student.

"Joe's capacity for collaboration was remarkable," says Abby Stewart, a psychologist who collaborated with Veroff on the marriage project. "He loved to bring students and colleagues together and exchange ideas. His research group was always lively, producing data analysis, good food and good company in equal parts. Joe's savoring of these pleasures was contagious."

Veroff is survived by his wife Jody, children Susie, Matt, Dan, Paul and David, 10 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

The Joseph Veroff Graduate Support Fund has been established to benefit students in psychology and ISR. To make a contribution, contact the Department of Psychology at 734-615-0070.

 


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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin