James J. Callahan, Jr, PhD '68, January 2, 1936 - October 12, 2010

October 15, 2010


Beloved professor, mentor, friend and long time holder of the Heller School's institutional memory, James J. Callahan, Jr., PhD '68, died Tuesday, October 12, 2010 when he fell from an MBTA commuter rail platform in West Newton, MA. Callahan will be missed for his incredible wit, his ability to tell spellbinding stories of Heller School personalities and for his many years as an advocate, change agent, scholar and teacher.

In addition to being a Heller professor, Callahan spent two years as acting dean of the Heller School from 1990 to 1992.  He was the Commissioner of Mental Health for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 1983 to 1985, and  Secretary of Elder Affairs from 1977 to 79. Callahan rotated from academia to state government, always staying fresh by shifting professional environments.

Callahan was widely respected by students and colleagues alike as someone who could cut to the chase, who was compassionate and irreverent at the same time and could boil down large policy issues to the pragmatic and accessible.

Despite Callahan's recent retirement, he was regularly seen around the Heller School, attending lectures and participating in committees. At the Heller School's 50th Anniversary, Dean Lisa Lynch bestowed the Alumni Service Award to the school on Callahan for his loyalty, devotion and tireless work for Heller. Surprised but pleased, Callahan was delighted to accept this award to a standing ovation in front of 500 of his colleagues and former students. Callahan had received other awards in the past including the Louis Lowy Award for contributions in the field of aging. He was nominated for that by the Massachusetts Gerontological Society in 2000.

Callahan will be missed for his ability to spin a yarn, for his warmth and encouragement. Lisa Lynch says that Callahan was the emeritus professor of every dean's dreams, bringing her what he called, "the official flower of the Heller School" from his garden - bleeding hearts.  Callahan, referred to by students as the "soul of the school," will be sorely missed. We are grateful to Jim Callahan, a giant in social policy, an intellect to be reckoned with, and above all, a friend and mentor to multitudes, for being a standout in the Heller community. We have lost a great man and all who knew him are grateful to have shared time with him.

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