Joseph B. Adelson, devoted husband, beloved father and grandfather, passed away Friday, December 9, 2011 in Saline, MI. He was 86. He leaves a loving wife, Margery; six children; five grandchildren, and a long legacy of teaching. He was born in the summer of 1925 in the Bronx, N.Y. and spent his childhood enduring the deepest days of the Great Depression. English was his third language as a child, and there was constant fear of poverty in his parents’ new country. But he studied diligently in high school at Townsend Harris and at the City College of New York (B.S ’47) making reading and writing into passions that would serve and support him his entire life. He decided to travel cross-country for graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley (M.A. ’50), and he turned his education into a thriving profession in psychology.
He began a 47-year teaching career at Michigan State University in 1950 and moved the following year to Bennington College in Vermont, where he taught for five years before joining the University of Michigan faculty in 1956 as a visiting assistant professor of psychology. Ann Arbor is where he would cultivate the fullest potential of his talents as a writer and lecturer. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1957, associate professor in 1959, and professor in 1963. He taught as he wrote: clearly and without wasted words. Although he was deeply proud of what he had learned, his mission was always to share it with those in his listening and reading audiences. He was prolific, writing dozens of research papers and articles for national and international journals and publications, and still he always wished he could write more.
He supplemented his teaching with more teaching, holding an appointment as senior psychologist at the Psychological Clinic for more than 30 years. It was there that he met Margery, with whom he would spend the happiest years of his life. They married, raised a family, and moved to Saline, Mich. He was always a teacher at home as well, advising his children on their own writing. He was fascinated by politics and current events, often merging those fields with psychology both in his lively discussions with friends and also in his published works.
He carved out a nationally respected niche as a thinker who could reach into several different areas of thought and find common themes. He built strong relationships with friends in psychology, academia, and politics. But he was no chameleon: He was unafraid to voice his opinions and unafraid to disagree. By the 1980s, he was at his full potential: He taught, he saw patients, he spent quality time with his young family, and he wrote his best book, “Inventing Adolescence: The Political Psychology of Everyday Schooling.” It tackled the deep challenges affecting the American educational system, but did so in a well-researched and accessible way. The book received national acclaim both inside and outside the psychology community. At around that time, he had a chance to be a speechwriter in the Department of Education, but turned it down because he didn’t want to displace his family.
Mr. Adelson retired in 1997, but his humor and opinions did not. He continued to be a voracious reader and he loved sharing his views and listening to those of others. For more than a decade at the end of his life, he fought illness quietly and bravely, enjoying his family and his reading even after he stopped writing. No matter what his health or discomfort, he found refuge in the company of his wife and children and in the ever-changing world of ideas and words. Services were held Sunday, December 11, 2011 at Congregation Beth Israel in Ann Arbor, Mich.