Mac Lellan, J. (1998, July 22). ‘Perhaps It Was Not A Dream’. Suffolk Life, pp.3, 7.

“Perhaps It Was Not a Dream”

“The memories that one has of someone are a poor substitute for the reality of life experiences that were shared,” said Robert Youth, Professor of Psychology at Dowling College. He was referring to friend and colleague Psychology Professor Lucien Buck of Oakdale who, after a year-long battle, succumbed to colon and liver cancer on June 15.

His death closes one of the great chapters in the history of Dowling. Over the past 28 years, he and his colleagues prided themselves on providing an exemplary education to more than 20,000 students — primarily from Suffolk County.

After receiving his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts in 1962, Buck moved to Long Island to start teaching and raise a family. His first position required he help establish the Department of Psychology for the Adelph-Suffolk College at the former Vanderbilt estate in Oakdale, now known as Dowling College.

By 1970, Buck was one of 10 active members of the college’s teaching staff who were instrumental in wrestling the old Vanderbilt summer mansion, conservatory and grounds from Adelphi to help establish Dowling College and bring it back almost to the brink of a university-level institution.

As a clinical psychologist, Buck inundated himself in research looking for more innovative ways to diagnose and treat behavior disorders.

In the first few years under Dowling’s banner, Buck and the late Aaron Kramer (Dowling’s poet and English professor) pioneered the concept of working with mentally impaired individuals in a consortium with students and residents of the Kings Park and Pilgrim State psychiatric centers, as well as with the learning impaired through the Cleary School for the Deaf in Ronkonkoma.

In their essay, “Opening New Worlds to the Deaf and the Disturbed,” published in the 1973 book “Poetry the Healer,” Buck and Kramer wrote, “As an education experience, the plan….was to combine classroom theory (psychological and literary concepts) with the application of poetry to human interaction.”

The course took students well beyond theory and brought psychology and literature alive. Students were forced to face their own limitations as well as those they were working with, and “related to these people as people rather than patients defined by diagnostic categories.”

The success was everyone walked away a better person. Students realized some of the vastness of the world they live in and learned, with a little psychological theory, poetry can transcend almost any handicap. The residents at the centers got to be creative, entertained, and most of all, listened to without any prejudice or medical bias.

“Lucien Buck was not in any way a superficial individual; pretense had no place in his life and being around him was never hard, especially if you were patient in hearing him out,” said Youth during a memorial service in mid-June.

Throughout his more than 80 published papers, Buck argued many issues, but often focused on the concept of helping people through individual humanism, a concept he called “Gandhian Synthesis.”

“Lou Buck was truly a consummate learner and optimist,” said friend and colleague Kant Nimbark. “He was a genuine “Gandhian Academician, who was extremely alert and willing to share everything right to the end. He was one of the most honorable of men.”

Using his personal experience with cancer, Lou Buck carried his dedication to academia and humanism to the end, spending many of his final days completing a 32-page dissertation, “Normal Illness Versus Wellness.” The paper warns America it does not have to succumb to this or any other disease, and will be presented before the 56th Annual Convention of the International Council of Psychologists next month in Melbourne, Australia.

“An individual is healthiest and feels most alive when caught up in projects, or when there are others around with whom one can exchange opinions… the best of both worlds is had by those working with others toward the fulfillment of a shared objective,” wrote Buck.

Also he noted, “Normal people resist tapping into fantasy, walling themselves off from the resources of the unconscious. This need to maintain the safety of conformity to social expectations obstructs curiosity and capacity for critical analysis.”

Friend and colleague David Adler suggested Buck was not only interested in working with people, he typically pressured them into thinking. “He was one of the toughest interrogators with a trademark of always intently listerning and eventually ending his point with a question inquiring, “What do you think?”

Youth said he could simply say, “Goodbye to a person who never allowed himself to play the victim… to a non-violent warrior when it came to representing others…to a healer who stressed that normalcy is not to be necessarily associated with health, and, that abnormal was not a term to denote illness…Goodbye to a teacher from whom one could learn many things and from one who shared with others when he learned something from them…Goodbye to a co-worker who stood as a role model for how being a professional meant always striving for excellence…to a friend with whom one could disagree vigorously and yet, still know that debate had not tarnished friendship.”

As each class of graduates from Dowling College looks back in fond memory of the days along the quiet and picturesque Connetquot River, it is easy to recall some of the teaching colossals who made the school’s reputation; Lucien Buck, professor of psychology for 35 years, is one such giant.

“This was not a dream,” said Buck’s youngest daughter, Lorraine. “My father was a scholar and a human being who dared us to dream.”

Lucien Buck is survived by his wife Beverly; daughters Cynthia, Lisa, Leslie, and Lorraine; son Robert; sisters Elizabeth Seals, Jeanne Louise Mattie, Mildred Wishart, and Jean Buck; brother Robert; grandchild Elise Lapadula, and the students who carry on his legacy.

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