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Peter Dvorak Albert ’67

Raised in Portland, Peter attended Reed for three years beginning in 1963. He did advanced work in mathematics in high school, and he continued to pursue this interest; but at Reed he discovered psychology, which became his intellectual passion. His Reed connections led to lifelong friendships with, among others, Steve Engel ’68, Vern Lindblad ’67, Steve Metz ’72, and Randy Puseman ’69. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Portland State University (PSU) in 1969 and a master’s degree in Asian studies and economics from the University of Oregon in 1983.

Peter suffered from chronic depression and was an alcoholic. He became sober for good in 1984 and devoted much of his career to helping others with similar challenges. He developed pragmatic cognitive therapies and accessible, behaviorally based materials and techniques to use with clients who ranged from teenage girls at a detention facility to adult Native Americans. Moving to Seattle in 1991, Peter changed his legal name from Peter A. Dvorak to Peter D. Albert, and expanded his interests to include ways to more effectively communicate with people needing to make changes in their lives. He hosted and produced programs on public access television, including Seattle Stop Smoking; became active in Toastmasters, winning a regional competition; and developed and led workshops for both clients and addiction therapy professionals.

By 2004, however, a complex of medical conditions ended his career in addiction counseling. Faced with chronic pain and limitations in his ability to write by hand, type, use a mouse, or drive, he moved back to Portland and started a new career tutoring statistics. Living in a modest downtown apartment, he built a client base among students in the social sciences and business at PSU. Over a 10-year period he helped them not only to pass exams, but to overcome math phobia and acquire an appreciation for and competence in using statistical tools.

Peter became fascinated by the work of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and others in the field of cognition. His area of interest was how cognitive biases are rooted in the way neural networks are structured. He cultivated collaborative relationships with faculty in the psychology department and the Systems Science Program at PSU; gave informal presentations; and was instrumental in creating the Cognition and Systems Society and neural network reading group. Peter shared his materials with Randy, who will make his work products available on the web for all to enjoy.

Peter’s drive to share his discoveries to benefit others was with him until the end. He was a favorite with caregivers because he was engaging, cooperative, and appreciative. One day he told his hospice nurse that if he gained strength he would write a booklet called, “How to Be a Patient Patient,” and verbally gave her a list of the points he would cover. She wrote them down and later shared them at a staff meeting. Days before he died she told him that his list would be published in their newsletter. Although he was weak and fading in and out of consciousness, he smiled with pleasure.

Survivors include a sister and brother, cousin Ellen Luoma Ullrick ’73, who created this memorial for Peter, and cousin John Ullrick ’73, and their families.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2015

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