Remembering Carol Creedon

When I arrived at Reed in 1970, Carol Creedon [psychology 1957–91] was already reputed to be the only professor in the Reed College psychology department who was interested in studying actual human beings. The animal research model prevailed almost exclusively in the department at that time, so those of us who cherished the notion of studying actual people eventually had to find our way to the warm reception and enthusiastic guidance that awaited us in the book-lined cave of Carol’s basement office in Eliot Hall.

Now, I must admit that Carol was a notable eccentric at Reed, which is no small feat in a place renown for its culture of intentional eccentricity. Not only was she a woman professor, which put her in a distinct minority for most of her teaching career, but she was also quite traditional in ways that were unusual for women academics of her time, especially at Reed. Everyone marveled that Carol wore skirts and lipstick, and that she carried patent-leather purses reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth’s (in)famous sacks.

What was less well known, but even more noteworthy for her time and position, was that Carol was a mother, and after her first few years of teaching at Reed, when her husband Robert moved to the Oregon coast, Carol was a single mother. Her son Jon was only two years old when Carol came to teach at Reed in 1957, and her son Tom was adopted four years later. This meant that Carol spent her first twenty years of teaching at Reed being a full-time professor and a full-time single mom, which is astonishing by today’s standards and almost incomprehensible by the standards of her day.

In addition, Carol believed deeply in contributing to her larger community, which meant that she served on a variety of panels and boards, mostly to benefit children and adolescents with special needs, as well as fulfilling her obligations to the Reed community and her own family.

I had the privilege of knowing Carol as my professor, my colleague, and for eight years, as my mother-in-law. It was Carol who received me, as she received so many distraught psychology students, when I slammed into the realization that my fundamental desire was to study human beings in the flesh, and not in the once-removed paradigm of the experimental animal model. When I arrived in her office on that memorable day, Carol offered me tea, but not sympathy. Instead, she was firm and clear and challenging, daring me to examine the phenomena of verbal behavior patterns that had long fascinated me in Reed’s famous conference system.

It was thanks to Carol that I revived my passion for psychology, for research, and for Reed itself, and it was thanks to Carol as well that I carried my undergraduate thesis to a presentation at the Western Psychological Association . . . not because I thought it was such a swell piece of research, but because Carol did.

Ten years later, it was Carol who once again revitalized my passion for psychology, and offered me every bit of guidance and encouragement that she could muster to help me prepare for a return to academia. Because of Carol’s belief in me, I dusted off my decade-old skills and dared to apply to graduate school . . . and was accepted. In the end, I chose to attend the University of Oregon, where my two favorite professors and best friends became Mick and Mary Rothbart, both of whom had been devoted students of Carol’s when they had attended Reed.

At the end of my graduate training, it was Carol who approached me to serve for two years as a visiting assistant professor in Reed’s psychology department. And it was Carol who helped me understand that the tenure-track position I was denied at the end of those two years was not, in fact, the best use of my talents and passions. Carol was right in her counsel, and I went on to pursue other work that has suited me far better and made me much happier.

But let me not forget to mention the third way in which I came to know Carol, which occurred as a result of the visit I made to consult with her in 1983, when I was preparing my applications for graduate school. It was then that I reconnected with Carol’s older son, Jon, with whom I fell in love and spent the next eight years of my life . . . eight fine and important years. During my relationship with Jon, Carol was infallibly supportive and loving to me, the absolute antithesis of the stereotypical mother-in-law. Like most of Carol’s students, I had known her as a warm and dedicated professor, and like most of her fellow professors, I had also known Carol as a congenial colleague and friend. But as a member of her family, I was allowed to see the mother-bear devotion and ferocious love that Carol felt for Jon and Tom . . . and for everyone whom she adopted as her personal “cubs.”

After 1992, my life path diverged from Carol’s, and I only saw her on two more occasions in the intervening 20 years. But I have carried with me a cherished memory of Carol that I imagine is similar to the one carried by the thousands of others whose lives she touched, by the hundreds of students whom she taught and mentored, by the dozens of colleagues whom she cajoled, counseled, and occasionally chastised, and by the few people who knew her full story and understood well her astonishing talents and memorable eccentricities.

Carol Creedon was like no one else . . . idiosyncratic well beyond the normal human measure of that quality. Her prodigiously brilliant mind and extremely challenging childhood could hardly have produced anything other than an unusually unusual person. But Carol stood tenaciously, fiercely, passionately, and proudly for the dignity and sanctity of the human psyche, especially in those who most needed her powerful advocacy. Reed has lost some of its heart with the passing of Carol Creedon, and I desperately hope that her legacy will live on in others who will remember to bring Heart, as well as Mind, to the Reed experience, just as Carol always did.

—Barbara Hort ’74
Vancouver, Washington


Carol influenced my academic achievements and personal experiences from the moment I entered her classroom for the first time in 1975. I don’t remember which class in particular, because I ended up taking all the classes she taught. I still picture her sitting at the large wooden desk in her office in the basement of Eliot surrounded by piles of books and journals—always reading and wanting to share her current interests. She hired me one semester to read volumes of Chinese newspapers (translated into English) to search for references about the role of women in China. Carol was preparing to travel to China in the wake of the United States reestablishing diplomatic ties. I had never read so much propaganda (or eaten so well because I had extra money), but what I remember most is Carol’s excitement in preparing for that trip. She was not a person to readily show her emotions and I was privileged to share those moments with her.

Her unwavering faith in my ability to succeed at Reed inspired me to stay when my personal life was in chaos, to complete my thesis when I wanted to quit, and to submit it for publishing when I didn’t believe it was worthwhile. We were published in 1981 in a professional journal and that event has been an ongoing source of pride in my life. I am a psychotherapist now in private practice and the lessons I learned from Carol continue more than 30 years later. I strive to keep reading, learning, and questioning every day. I share my knowledge and thoughts with colleagues and discover new ways of thinking and being from them. I often believe in my clients more than they believe themselves leading to outstanding therapeutic rapport.

Thank you, Carol, for believing in me more than I ever could. Rest easy—your legacy lives on.

—Anne Dickerson Moss Riley ’74
Renton, Washington


I first met Carol Creedon in 1986. I was a 25-year-old transfer student threading my way through the bowels of Eliot Hall to find my newly assigned adviser's office. I walked in and introduced myself as an older student transfer student eager to complete my degree in three years and move on for a doctorate in clinical psychology.

I was taken by her bright intelligence shining through her eyes and what I came to learn was both her nervous and excited "tell"—licking her lips! You see I had just laid out my plans and then I told her that in order to put myself through Reed I would be working full time at night.

That was the first of numerous meetings in her crowded office/library and the first of many gallons of her tea! Carol gave me a gift that day, one that she would not let me "unwrap" until after she had signed my library bound copy of my thesis. She also gave me, through out my years at Reed, her self. She was always encouraging, never failing to prop me up with a kind word of wisdom as I worked hard at my classes. She was also there for me as I felt slightly alien to my compatriots due to our age and experiential differences and that by working 40 hours a week my free time on campus was sorely limited. All through those four years she maintained that unflagging spirit. Carol managed to maintain that same spirit during the time that she juggled being both my adviser and my professor while taking her class in clinical psychology.

It was during that class when my group was stumped on a joint project that she led Ben, Sonja, and I to take up the question of ethnocentricity. She led us to the water and we drank deep! The three of us created and experiment that was essentially to test just how loose a group affiliation could be and still form ethnocentricity: the "group bond." Carol helped us design our experiment and also assisted us in being able to run it since we had chosen as our subjects 9–11 year old kids. We were a bit naive about the hoops that we would have to jump through just to gain access to our chosen subject group. Through all of our time preparing and running our experiment, there was Carol, always smiling, infinitely helpful, to pull us through.

To all of our astonishment we discovered that the group bonding could occur in something so small as assigning a child to a table and labeling them Green, Red, Yellow or Blue. We proved that we could increase that bond by requiring that they share the supplied glue and scissors to complete a simple construction paper rainbow. We also discovered that there was a correlation between the sex of the child and their predisposition to higher rates of ethnocentricity: girls rated statistically higher than boys across the board. Ben, Sonja, and I were proud of our work, but not as proud as Carol was of its thesis and it's findings.

Carol called us all together and asked if we would present it to the Oregon Psychonomic Society. We were excited by the prospect, but not as excited as our ever-enthusiastic professor, Carol Creedon. She helped us with our application and coached Ben and I on our presentation. I remember my nerves that day as we arrived and noted where on the schedule we were slated to present our work. That is when it hit me that Carol had helped us create an undergraduate paper for one classroom assignment at Reed that rated being presented along side master's theses. I looked at her and she just smiled and wet her lips, not from nerves, but from her own excitement at our achievement. It dawned on me half way through the presentations that our simple classroom assignment at Reed was actually better than most of the Master theses that were presented that day, better than papers that represented two year's work at other colleges and universities. There was Carol's genius! She added her name and her doctorate to our paper to gain access to present it that day. She unfailingly believed in us.

Carol gave me the hope and the encouragement to complete my degree. I will never forget her ready smile, her "tell" and her love of kimchee and tea. The gift that she let me finally "unwrap" that last day as a student at Reed was simply this—her smiling tear filled eyes rose up from her completed signature on my thesis and she said, "I never wanted to tell you this but, what you just did was impossible." Thank God she didn't tell me that on my first day at Reed or ever during my time there! She gave me the gift of believing that it was possible, even when she herself doubted that possibility. That was Carol, through and through.

Carol Creedon gave that gift to all of us who had the incredible good fortune to know her. She gave us that gift when a small group of us approached her to start peer counseling at Reed. She gave me that gift when I set up orientation to Reed seminars for incoming freshman after recognizing that the academic rigors of Reed could throw you in deep water. I was just sharing what she had done for me, teaching me to believe in my own self and in my own abilities. She set the bar high and made you believe that it was a simple hop to climb over it. Then she would set the bar higher still, trusting you until you could trust yourself to reach even that higher ground.

Reed gave me a great gift by assigning me to Carol Creedon. With a smile and a cup of tea, Carol Creedon gave me the greatest gift, her self. Carol was, and always will be, my hero.

—Holly Page Bryant ’94
Portland, Oregon


The most memorable thing about Carol Creedon in class was her intensity. She spoke clearly and precisely, and punctuated her every utterance with her hands—one of which was almost always holding a cigarette. (There is an often-shown photograph of Carol in conference, probably spring 1962, showing her making a point with her cigarette, while in the background two classmates of mine, Janet Lancaster '64 and David Kanouse '64, are lighting up. I'm the fourth person in the picture, as the odd-man-out nonsmoker.) Carol was quite open about her academic heroes, using the Solomon Asch textbook for Social Psychology even though it was 10 years old. She kept us current by assigning a flood of recent journal articles; being Reed students, none of us found anything strange in that. At the end of that course we had accomplished more than the corresponding graduate course in a major university.

In her course on personality, she encouraged us to synthesize the various theories presented; we could even come up with one of our own. But she was most in her element in the Child Psychology course, starting us off with Margaret Ribble's landmark controversial book (1942!), The Rights of Infants, and continuing with a no-prisoners-taken attack on by-the-book child rearing and behavioral approaches. As part of the course, we were required to go into the real world and interact with real children.

Carol was not perfect. She got it into her mind that I was destined to be a mathematical psychologist and actively discouraged me from seeking a career in clinical or social psychology. In that, she was half right—clinical was not my metier, but I did get my doctorate in mathematical social psychology. Her comments on term papers were sometimes more critical than constructive. But these were minor in the context of her clear caring for her students and wanting to see them succeed in her/our discipline. 

It was my privilege to interview Carol for the Reed Oral History Project. By then (2006), she was long-retired, but maintained office space in the basement of Eliot Hall. She had difficulty getting about, but her mind was as razor-sharp as always, and she passionately provided valuable information about what it was like to be a female member of the faculty in the mid-1950s, raise two children while continuing her career, and the rise and fall of Reed’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

—Jim Kahan ’64
Portland, Oregon


Fifty-two years ago, as a sophomore at Reed, I was assigned to Carol Creedon’s section of introductory psychology, and my life would be forever changed by that chance event. By every measure, Carol was an extraordinary teacher, and a true embodiment of Reed’s values. Carol became, not necessarily in ascending order, my academic adviser, mentor, teacher, thesis adviser, and friend. Four of Carol’s qualities come to mind. First, in conference, she had an uncanny ability to paraphrase the most confused, inarticulate comment, in a way that made it sound like a major contribution to the discussion, and to the field of psychology! At base, it conveyed respect for the student, and a focus on—above all else—the ideas. Second, in the introductory psychology section, we would go over the multiple choice exams (by the way, rarely given at Reed) after they were graded, and would argue with her about whether the designated correct answer was really the only legitimate option, and whether the other options were perhaps better. She was a tough opponent and defended the correct answer fiercely, but when the students made a convincing case—which they did occasionally—she accepted the arguments and had the exam rescored. The result was that a mediocre exam was turned into a first-rate learning experience, and again the Reed ethos—that rationality trumps authority—was powerfully reinforced. Third, when her students checked their mail, there were often handwritten notes from Carol asking if we had seen/read article X, or book Y, all of which were relevant to our interests. And this was before email! And fourth, her ability in class to see relations among arguments, data, and theory, and to connect apparently distant ideas to one another represented scholarship at its best.

In my own academic career, of course, Carol has served as my role model, although I could never approach her devotion to students, and her level of scholarship. I cannot overestimate her influence on my career and my thinking, and when I do think of her, which is often, I consider both my good fortune to have had her in my life, and my indebtedness. I am reminded of the parting lines in Moss Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner. In paraphrase, Carol had every right to tell me that she had enriched my life well beyond my pathetic inability to repay her. But she was far too generous ever to have said that.

—Myron Rothbart ’62
Eugene, Oregon


Carol Creedon, without a doubt, kept me from changing my major at Reed for what would have been the third time. As a 1970s-era psychology major with leanings toward clinical or educational psychology, I was having trouble finding my way in what was then a Skinnerian/behavioral dominant department. After taking my first class with Carol, I was delighted to discover her Rogerian/humanist background and at that moment became a Creedon groupie.

I have many enduring and endearing memories of Carol. The first was the awe I felt when I first saw her office in the basement of Eliot Hall: it was a maze of floor to ceiling bookcases full of what seemed like every book ever written in the field of psychology. No matter what arcane subject or obscure author I was researching, she would pull out an armful of seminal books for me to read and invite me back the next week to discuss them. And what was even more amazing to me was that it was obvious that she had read every one of the books she had given to me. I’m convinced that her collection was better than Reed’s own Hauser Library collection!

Carol was also a black belt editor. By my senior year at Reed, I considered myself to be a better than average paper writer, so I was very confident when I handed Carol the draft of my first thesis chapter. At my next paper conference, I was appalled when she handed it back to me: there were so many penciled in comments and corrections that it was difficult to read the original. To add insult to injury, every one of her comments was inarguably better than what I had written. Later, as I worked with Carol to prepare my thesis for publication in The Review of Educational Research, I was once again confident that the initial quality of the thesis wouldn’t need much tweaking for the journal. Six months later, Carol’s pencil edits had dwindled to an extent that she was willing to release it for publication.

Initially, I was intimidated by Carol, but she had a calm manner that would put anybody at ease. I remember her quiet, dry sense of humor, usually revealed only by a small smile and a quiet chuckle. But she also had a delightful full-bodied laugh that made her seem just a little less intimidating. She was a powerful mentor who still has an impact on me almost 40 years later.

—Tim Pantages ‘75

Beaverton, Oregon