Psychologist Gerstein, former Chancellor, dies

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Reva Appleby Gerstein, LLD’72, the ground-breaking psychologist who served as Western’s first woman Chancellor, died Monday. She was 102.

Heralded by many for her “gracious tenacity and integrity,” Gerstein was a psychologist whose extraordinary achievements included helping shift attitudes towards people with mental illness. Her insights and advice were sought out by prime ministers, premiers, mayors and policy-makers in health, research, cultural institutions and corporations.

Gerstein served as Western Chancellor from 1992-96.

“Dr. Reva Gertstein was a great humanitarian, a woman of dedication and talent who left her mark on countless areas of Canadian life,” said former Western President Paul Davenport. “When I arrived at Western as President in 1994, Reva – as she asked me to call her – was midway through her term as Western’s first woman Chancellor. I had a lot to learn and Reva helped me enormously in understanding the key institutions and players in Ontario higher education.

“Over time, I came to know of her extraordinary contributions to Canada and Canadians in academic psychology, mental health, postsecondary education, and the support of discharged psychiatric patients. She was a truly great Canadian and I am grateful to have known her.”

During the war years, Gerstein taught numerous courses at the University of Toronto Department of Psychology. She worked directly with Sir Frederick Banting on the effects of oxygen deprivation on mental abilities for the Royal Canadian Air Force and was hired as the first child psychologist in the Ontario school system by the East York-Leaside Board of Health.

In 1945, she left the University of Toronto when the male members of the department returned from the war and became National Director of Program Planning for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) working with Drs. Clarence Hincks and Jack Griffin, both of whom became great friends and mentors.

At CMHA she was the originator of Mental Health Week in Canada and ran a weekly Mental Health Program on CBC Radio.

In 1962, Reva was appointed by Premier John Robarts as the first woman member of the Committee on University Affairs (CUA) serving as its Chairman from 1972-75.

In 1968, Gerstein founded, chaired, and lead the campaign to raise the funds to create the Hincks Treatment Centre for Adolescents which had a strong base in infant and adolescent psychiatry and which is now part of the SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health.

In the late 1970s, Gerstein was appointed by Premier Bill Davis to the newly reorganized Ontario Council on University Affairs (OCUA) and became a member and editorial chairman of the Commission on Post Secondary Education in Ontario. In this capacity, she was one of the pioneers in furthering the legitimacy of mature students as an integral part of the university education system.

She was widely known by her work in the 1980s as author of one of Canada’s most profound shifts in Canadian mental-health care to a non-medical model that focused on healthy living beyond psychiatric hospitals.

She worked passionately to make sure people recovering from mental illness had access to homes, social supports, employment and dignity. And when the province opened a support centre for mental-illness survivors in Toronto in 1990, they named it Gerstein Crisis Centre to pay homage to “her gracious tenacity and integrity.”

When she was named Chancellor at Western in 1992, she was already chair of the board of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and she remained involved as one of its key advisors through its fledgling years and into its maturity as an organization that now claims 19 Nobel laureates and hundreds of researchers from more than a dozen countries.

Farsighted, Gerstein saw this research in a light that resonates almost three decades later, saying at the time, “It’s a tough sell, you’re selling ideas. But innovation is the basis of future prosperity.”

Soon after Gerstein finished her work as Western Chancellor, she was awarded Companion of the Order of Canada, one of the highest civilian honours a Canadian can receive.

In addition to her doctorate in psychology from University of Toronto in 1945, Gerstein received six honorary doctorates, including one from Western in 1972.

Western’s Department of Psychology continues to award a leading first-years masters student with the Reva Gerstein Fellowship for Masters Study in Psychology in her honour.

Gerstein was preceded in death by brothers, Irving and Sidney Appleby; and husbands, Bertrand Gerstein and David Raitblatt. She is survived by children, Irving and Gail (Smith), and Ira and Lisa Zwig; grandchildren, Marcy, Frank, Laurie, Anthony, Melissa, Carrie, Jonathan, Lee, Natalie and Devin; great-grandchildren, Elias, Lily, Sydney, Madeline, Benjamin, Cleo, and Lewis.