In Memoriam: Pat O'Neill, Professor Emeritus

Acadia's Psychology Department and all members of the Acadia community were saddened to learn that Emeritus Professor Pat O'Neill passed away on October 1st, 2021. The following synopsis written by Psychology Prof. Doug Symons reviews Pat's outstanding contributions to Acadia and the field of psychology.

An inspiring colleague, mentor, and friend. Pat was a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, where he worked from 1974 to 2003. Pat came to Acadia after undergraduate studies at the U. of Victoria and graduate work at Yale, where he developed his expertise in Community Psychology and Ethical Decision-making, fields in which he wrote over 30 publications and three books during his career. He made a lasting impact on the discipline and profession of psychology, both within Acadia and at the national level.

Within the Psychology Department, Pat was a beloved teacher and mentor. Although he taught many courses over the years, he was perhaps best known at the undergraduate level for his History and Systems course, in which he brought the history of psychology alive for students with a store of vivid and engaging anecdotes, many drawn from his own deep well of academic and life experiences. At the graduate level, Pat organized community psychology projects for students in areas such as transition homes, women’s health education, and serving children with learning challenges. These projects provided an important source of community engagement for Acadia’s clinical psychology graduate students, reflecting the themes of fairness, equity, diversity, and inclusiveness that Pat advocated for throughout his career, long before these terms were in common use. Pat’s graduate-level course in ethics was a tour de force. He shaped the views of a generation of clinical psychologists across Nova Scotia, teaching the course at Acadia, Dalhousie, and Mount Saint Vincent. He was also a devoted mentor, supervising over 80 theses during his time at Acadia.

At the university level, Pat was best known for his involvement with the Acadia University Faculty Association. He served AUFA in countless ways over the years, including as President twice. His most notable achievement, though, was ushering in the first Collective Agreement as preliminary planner and Chief Negotiator, a role he repeated in a later collective agreement, as well as serving as an ongoing consultant to many subsequent negotiations. Whether they know it or not, every faculty member at Acadia owes Pat a debt of gratitude for setting the foundation for many of the rights we take for granted today.

Dr. O’Neill’s contributions extended far beyond Acadia. At the provincial level, Dr. O’Neill was a Charter (founding) Member of the Registry of Psychologists and served as the Chair of the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology from 1989 to 1991. At national and international levels, he served as President of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), as editor of the journal Canadian Psychology, and as a key member of the committee that helped shape the ongoing development of CPA’s ethical code of conduct. He was also a member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Working Group that helped shape the Tri-Council Policy on ethics, and of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) special advisory committee on ethics policy. Again, whether they know it or not, countless academics owe Dr. O’Neill a debt of gratitude for helping to establish the ethical foundations upon which Canadian academia rests today.

Dr. O’Neill was a Fellow of CPA, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychological Society. He was the recipient of CAUT’s Distinguished Academic Award, which is granted to those whose “teaching, research, and service have contributed noticeably to the lives of their students, to their institution, to their field of study, and to the community”. Those words perfectly sum up the outstanding life and career of Dr. Pat O’Neill. He will be mourned and missed by his long-time partner Dr. Janice Best, by his family and friends, and by all those many individuals whose lives he has touched.

The discipline and the profession of Psychology, as well as of academia more broadly defined, are built on the contributions of exceptional leaders. Dr. Pat O’Neill was one.