Remembering Tom Oakland

Volume 44 Issue 1

By Tom Fagan

I have written more than 60 of these memorials over the past 30 years. Some were very personal, others were largely historical; some deaths were accidental, or from illness or natural causes. Tom Oakland's death is among the few I would consider personal and tragic. From what has been published in newspaper accounts, Dr. Tom Oakland was murdered in Gainesville, Florida, by someone he knew and had been trying to help for several years (Personal communication from Chris Oakland, May 5, 2015). It is believed that Tom let this man into the house, was murdered, and the home was set on fire to cover the evidence (see newspaper accounts in the Gainesville Sun). Apparently, the fire destroyed many important historical records Tom had saved over the years, a potentially major loss of records (Personal communication from Diana Joyce Beaulieu, April 3, 2015). The person was identified and apprehended quickly. No other major leader in school psychology that I can recall suffered such a violent end to his or her life. I received e-mails about the death within 24 hours and the information from news coverage in Gainesville and the outpouring of personal sentiments went on for several days. Tom Oakland was the honored Legends Address speaker at the 2002 NASP convention and much of the background information herein was gathered from the introduction to that event. Several persons have sent me personal statements that I have tried to incorporate as a testimony to the man whom I consider an international legend in our field. In one newspaper account, his son, Chris, is quoted as saying that his dad "would always say that he lived in Florida, but he resided in the world" (Angers, 2015). Tom's 2002 Legends Address was titled, "Where in the World Is School Psychology: Its International Dimensions." Now I ponder, where is the world of school psychology without Tom Oakland?

Background and Education

 Thomas David Oakland was born on November 23, 1939 in Kenosha, Wisconsin and died at age 75 in his home in Gainesville, Florida on March 4, 2015. His parents were Oscar and Nancy Oakland; his father was a route salesman for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company until the age of 52, at which time he suffered a stroke and was no longer able to work. His mother was a homemaker until that time and then worked as a domestic and cook. Tom attended Kenosha public schools through grade 12 and then received his BA degree in history from Lawrence College (Appleton, WI) in 1962. There he met his first wife, Judy Defferding, the mother of his two sons, David and Christopher. He was married to her from 1963 to 1976. Following their divorce, Tom balanced academic life and that of single parenting, which no doubt led to his book, Divorced Fathers(Oakland, 1984). Tom was later married to Nancy Allen from 1984 to 1994.

He was employed as a seventh grade teacher of language arts, geography, and history in the DeKalb (IL) Junior High School (1962)-1963), and taught fifth, seventh, and eighth grade history, science, and reading in the Orland Park (IL) School District (1963)-1964). Returning to pursue graduate studies, he received his MS and PhD degrees in educational psychology from Indiana University in 1965 and 1967, respectively. His first academic job was at the University of Texas-Austin where he was an assistant professor from 1967 to 1972, associate professor from 1972 to 1978, and promoted to full professor in 1978. While at the University of Texas, he also served as director of the Learning Abilities Center and supervisory psychologist for the Speech and Hearing Center. He was a professor at the University of Florida's Department of Educational Psychology from 1995 until his retirement in 2013, serving as department chair from 1995 to 1997.

Scholarly Pursuits and Recognitions

Tom traveled to more than three dozen countries during his career and held visiting professorships in Portugal, Costa Rica, The University of Auckland (NZ), University of Brasilia (Brazil), University of Calgary's Gaza Campus, and Lamar University's Gaza Campus, and was an Honorary Professor with the University of Hong Kong. With his sons, he often travelled in the summers to Central America, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East.

His scholarly pursuits were extraordinary, including books on the topics of nonbiased assessment and international school psychology, and scores of chapters, journal articles, reports, and presentations worldwide. He developed tests in the areas of student styles, test session behavior, and adaptive behavior. He was a licensed psychologist in both Texas and Florida and an ABPP diplomate in the fields of school psychology, forensic examiner, and professional neuropsychology. He was a Fellow of the American Psychological Association's Divisions of Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics; School Psychology; and International Psychology; and of the American Psychological Society, the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology, and the American Academy of School Psychology. He held the Dorothy Hughes Award from New York University, and was a recipient of APA Division 16's Distinguished Service Award (1990) and Senior Scientist Award (2000). He also held a distinguished service award from the International School Psychology Association.Tom served in many roles for APA's Division 16, including committee chairs, secretary (1979-1982), and president (1983-1984). He was a past president (1990-1991) and founding member of the Society for the Study of School Psychology. He served the International School Psychology Association in several roles, including its presidency from 1995 to 1997. He edited the Journal of School Psychology from 1980 to 1986 (Fagan & Jack, 2014), and served as guest editor, or consultant and reviewer to more than two dozen national and international publications.

Personal Perspectives

Among my early encounters with Tom Oakland was when he was editor of the Journal of School Psychology. He favorably reviewed a piece I had submitted on the historical growth of training programs in school psychology but noted his abhorrence for the term training, preferring instead the term preparation. Thus, throughout my article (Fagan, 1986), you will find the terms prepare and preparation, instead of train and training! And he preferred to be known as an educator, not as a trainer. At the 2002 Legends Address introduction, I chided Oakland about this by mentioning that among the things authors learn about the publication process is that editors have their quirks, that it is simpler to revise a manuscript for publication than to change an editor's quirks, and that an accepted publication will be on one's vita for a much longer time than the editor will be on the journal board.

My family also remembers Tom's visit to our home for dinner many years ago and how he entertained our young children with his tests and interpretations. Tom was a person who enjoyed other people, chatting with children, and was a great conversationalist. I knew Cal Catterall and Frances Mullen, arguably the early founders of the international school psychology movement in the United States. Oakland was a knowledgeable follower of their efforts and when I needed information about school psychology in another land or to refer a student to such information, Tom was the go-to person. He was a worldwide consultant and never too busy to help.

As I review his career vita, I am most impressed by the following:

  • He is the first and among a small group of Division 16 members to hold both the Distinguished Service Award (1990) and the Senior Scientist Award (2000).
  • He is perhaps the only member of our field to be awarded a Distinguished Contributions to International Psychology from the APA (Oakland, 2003).
  • Following on the efforts of Calvin Catterall, Oakland and his collaborators brought international descriptions of school psychology to more contemporary recognition (Jimerson, Oakland, & Farrell, 2007).
  • He mentored several persons who made significant contributions to school psychology.
  • I believe he had taught more foreign courses and seminars than anyone else I know.
  • Following his JSP editorship, Tom provided leadership to the Journal of School Psychology, Inc. facilitating its transformation to the Society for the Study of School Psychology.
  • He was affiliated in several capacities with at least 50 American and international journals.

Online Comments

The announcement of Tom Oakland's death quickly spread across the school psychology Listservs, and an outpouring of comments and testimonies followed for several days. A list of personal tributes, Tom's vita, and significant publications can be found at The following are additional comments I saw online or in e-mails sent to me. I apologize for having to edit them for publication.

I have known Tom since 2005. His contribution in my academic life is unquestionable. He was a very unique and important person in my life. He was always very supportive. -Tolga Aricak, Istanbul

Tom was one of my very few close friends and my true mentor throughout my career-what a loss and tragedy. -Bruce A. Bracken, College of William & Mary

Whenever I saw him, he would always make a point of telling me and those around me that I was like a son to him. And when I saw him in Orlando 2 weeks ago, he made a point of telling me how important his relationship with me was to him. -Alan Brue

Tom Oakland was a giant in school psychology. He was a colleague, mentor, and friend to so many. I don't have the words to eulogize Tom adequately. However, I believe Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If-," exemplifies Tom's impact. -Ralph E. "Gene" Cash

If there is one song (and video) I would recommend that perhaps represents the stories all relayed about Dr. Oakland that comes to my mind is "I Lived" (2014) by One Republic. "I owned every second that this world could give, saw so many places. The things that I did. With every broken bone I swear I lived."-Victoria A. Comerchero, Touro College (NY)

His contributions are unique for the development of school psychology in so many different countries, for supporting colleagues around the world and for emphasizing an international perspective in school psychology in us as well. He was passionate about our field and evidence-based practices and caring for friends, colleagues, children, and families. -Chryse "Sissy" Hatzichristou, University of Athens, Greece

At the convention in Orlando, Tom came to our poster and told me that our poster was the only one he came to and that we should start a school psychology journal in China. Via e-mail, we discussed his efforts in mainland China and Taiwan and the potential for school psychology development in PRC. He encouraged me to develop a list of people who would be interested in this effort. I will take his advice and continue this unfinished effort. -Hong Ni, California State University-Fresno

At the recent NASP convention, our paths seemed to cross multiple times. Each time our conversations grew deeper and more enjoyable. I was struck by his warmth and obvious enjoyment of the pleasure of conversing with people. He did so by being truly present and interested in what he was hearing as well as by conveying respect and appreciation for the person with whom he was conversing. -Candice A. Hughes

Numerous colleagues have mentioned how much they have appreciated the support and the sharing as they mourn the unexpected loss of Tom. We can continue to do much in his memory... Let him serve as an inspiration to us as we continue to engage in the important work that he valued so much. -Shane Jimerson

Tom has been so much a part of my life, as a friend, colleague, and inspiration. He leaves a large hole in our profession, but more importantly, in our lives. -Judith Kaufman, New YorkTom's assistance made it possible for me to get a license to practice in New Mexico. It was later that I met him in person. My first impressions were so positive. Tom was such a genuine and friendly person. He always had time for anyone, regardless of their status, even those that many people ignore. What an incredible loss. -Ellen Krumm, Carlsbad, New Mexico

I had an intense correspondence with him several years ago and have some papers he sent me about his work in Gaza, where I also worked. Over the years I would consult with him on parts of my work and he was always generous with his knowledge, and considerate, although we never met face to face. When he moved to Gainesville, his office was down the hall from where my father used to work, and I enjoyed sharing memories with him. -Moshe Landsman, Israel

Tom was a great inspiration to the field of school psychology. -Daniel C. Miller, Texas Women's University

In addition to his international work and research/academic career, Tom also served as a busy and accomplished site visitor for the APA Commission on Accreditation. We found ourselves on the same site team last year and he related a very busy life in his "retirement," including doing two additional site visits after ours in the span of 2-3 months. We met again briefly at NASP (he attended the dance!) and he was very engaged with young and old alike. -Daniel Olympia, University of Utah

Did you know that he was on Alan Coulter's doctoral committee? I have some funny memories of Tom from the joint planning committee for the Olympia Conference. I got mad at him and threw a glass of champagne on him. He was a real gentleman about it. For years he would ask me why. I ended up buying a bottle of Champagne and presenting it to him at a conference in Michigan. The following year he invited Joe (my husband) and me to his house in Gainesville, and he was a wonderful host. He volunteered to drive to St. Pete if Joe ever needed any assistance and he sincerely meant it. -Sharon Petty, St. Petersburg, Florida

Ijust saw Tom at NASP and he looked wonderful. I expected him to live to at least 100 years and beyond. Tom was a devoted father, a devoted teacher, a devoted researcher, and a great colleague. -Jerry Sattler, San Diego, CA

Such a close friend, colleague, mentor. So committed to furthering all aspects of the practice of school psychology throughout the world. So unfailing in his energy! - Mary E. Stafford, University of Houston Clear Lake

Tom was one of a small handful of U.S. school psychologists who was known and valued truly around the world. -Bill Strein, University of Maryland

Tom Oakland was a man who lived by example. He prided himself on living with integrity, and he always encouraged others to live up their highest ideals. He was a consummate mentor, advisor, teacher, and father figure. He taught that we should live our lives with the end in mind. To this day, I can still hear him saying: "How do you want to be remembered?" and "What type of legacy will you leave?" In his law and ethics course, Tom even had us draft our own obituaries as a class assignment. Most of us were in our 20s though, in a time when life feels so limitless. However, the more that we learned from him and about for what he stood, we realized that Tom was encouraging us to wake up and live our lives with greater awareness and purpose. -Michael L. Sulkowski, University of Arizona

He always had something positive to say about our field and was very supportive of me personally. He always paused to ask me and seemed genuinely interested in my work. He also impressed me with his sense of the history of our profession and his dedication and concern with the needs of children and families, not just in this country but internationally. He shared with me how touched he was by tributes given to him on his retirement, and I am thankful he learned with what high esteem we all held him and how appreciative we were of his many contributions to our specialty. -Mark Swerdlik, Illinois State University

I first met Tom at a NASP convention. He talked to me and treated me as, not some lowly grad student, but almost as a colleague. Gracious doesn't begin to describe Tom. Really made me feel like somebody .... really down to earth. Later, in 2004, after our department at the University of Southern Mississippi set up the Lee Hildman Colloquium series, Tom was our inaugural speaker ... a more polite, gracious, warm individual you couldn't meet. -Daniel H. Tingstrom, University of Southern Mississippi

Speaking for friends and colleagues at the University of Florida, we feel privileged to have been part of his day-to-day professional work for the past 17 years, and know that so many of you in other parts of the country and world have also been touched by his collegiality, friendship, and scholarship. Tom frequently commented on how proud he was to be part of a professional community that brought support not only to children and families, but also to each other. -Nancy Waldron, Diana Joyce Beaulieu, John Kranzler, Tina Smith-Bonahue, University of Florida

Tom was a long-time and dear friend and respected colleague. His contributions to education in general and school psychology in particular are countless. In our communications, he was always the utmost in professionalism and human qualities. - Bob Woody, University of Nebraska-Omaha


Beeman Phillips mentored Tom when they were together at Indiana University, the University of Texas, and with the Journal of School Psychology. His comment is a fitting concluding thought: "Through his professional, academic, and personal standards and dedication to service in two major universities and in many professional organizations, he exemplified the conviction that school psychology had much to contribute to schools, schooling, professional education and training, and human welfare at the local, regional, national, and international level. Although we will all feel diminished by his absence, we might, nevertheless, follow the example of his life and not focus on the unfairness of his death. Instead, we might think about our pleasant memories about him, as a valued colleague, an exemplary role model, and as an esteemed leader- memories which we can carry with us in years to come" (Personal communication from Beeman Phillips, March 12, 2015).

Almost everyone who was familiar with the field of school psychology and its leadership knew Tom Oakland. He was a friend to all he met. A celebration of life was held at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Florida on March 28, 2015. I was told that more than 250 people attended, including two who flew all the way from Hong Kong to pay respects to "Papa Tom" (Personal communication from Ellen Krumm, April 3, 2015; and Chris Oakland, May 5, 2015). Tom Oakland is survived by his sons, David and Chris, and their mother Judith (Defferding) Higgins. He was cremated and buried next to his parents and family members in Sunset Ridge Memorial Park, Kenosha, Wisconsin. There was a final celebration of his life on July 25 at First United Methodist Church in Kenosha.


Angers, A. (2015).

Fagan, T. K. (1986). The historical origins and growth of programs to prepare school psychologists in the United States.Journal of School Psychology, 24(1), 9-22.

Fagan, T. K., & Jack, S. (2012). A history of the founding and early development of the Journal of School Psychology.Journal of School Psychology, 50, 701-735.

Jimerson, S., Oakland, T., & Farrell, P. (Eds.). (2007). The handbook of international school psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Oakland, T. (Ed.). (1984). Divorced fathers. New York, NY: Human Sciences Press.

Oakland, T. (2003). International school psychology: Psychology's international portal to children and youth. American Psychologist, 58(11), 985-992.

Tom Fagan is the historian for the National Association of School Psychologists