memories

I just found out about his passing. Professor Hackman gave me my first job as a research assistant--when no one else would; and for that I'm eternally grateful. He will be greatly missed.

-Bob Woods

I first became aware of Richard by his book, Groups That Work (And those that don't). I was transfixed. His research was pure brilliance. I later had the chance to meet him at the Columbia's Teachers College Advanced Studies in OD. He was very personable, outgoing, friendly and welcoming. And brilliant. I am so very saddened by his death. Psychology has lost a great person.

-Craig LaFargue

Richard was a giant (in so many ways), and he will be greatly missed.  On one of the walks I got to take with him he said he thought happiness was “a cow chewing grass in the meadow,”—and  that that wasn’t for him.  He couldn’t resist getting all worked up at anyone who so much as came near, let alone pressed, one of his many buttons.  Working across the hall from him, my officemates and I would brace ourselves when we heard a fellow student unknowingly set him off—and then we would all just sit back in awe as he erupted with passion and knowledge.   Richard had his moods and his moments of gruffness, but eventually he’d come looking for food to steal and a laugh.  I remember him as being goofy and even awkward at times, and yet he was an absolute ace people reader, beyond politically astute, and a gifted counselor.    

In choosing his students, he always went for the odd bird.  For him, the less “the key fits the lock”, as he put it, the better.  As an adviser, he steadfastly refused to spoon-feed you—though his influence on your work was unmistakable.  The telephone we had in the office across from his had a tremendously long coil connecting the handset to the base.  Richard would sit on the couch and painstakingly, patiently untwist each turn of the impossibly tangled coil until the whole length hung free.  It was what he did to the research problems he tackled, and it was what he did with his students—slowly, carefully working out the knots.  I keep to this day a quiz he made for me when I was struggling with beginning my dissertation research after the proposal had been accepted.  He wrote out criteria, lettered A thru G (“which is easiest?”, “which is riskiest?” etc.), accompanied with 5 notecards, each with a numbered alternative (“PhD later”, “easier project”, etc.), and a grid on which I was to rank order them on the criteria and then calculate average scores.  He, of course, included the formula for reverse scoring the appropriate items.  It was quintessential Hackman advising, and completing his little exercise re-energized me. 

I will be forever grateful to have been his student.  His reach was far and wide, but to me, he will always be the huge man who signed his messages with a little “r”.

-Josephine Pichanick Mogelof

Three favorite memories of Richard, among many, many more:

In 1985, just a couple years after I first met Richard, he and a couple of colleagues from the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro came to my home to plan a CCL program on innovation. It was a cold winter day, and I had a fire in the fireplace. Richard sat on the floor by the fire, shoes off, brows knitted in concentration. Having formulated his thoughts, he leapt to his feet, seized the fireplace poker, and started using it as a baton to punctuate his monologue. He grew more and more intense, gesturing ever more broadly with that poker as he spoke. When he finished, 10 minutes later, the rest of us burst out laughing. Without realizing it, he had grabbed the wrong end of the poker… and was now covered in soot, head to foot.

Around 1990, I invited Richard to give a seminar in the psychology department at Brandeis, where I was then on the faculty. The talk was wonderful, of course, and it gave me one of my most memorable laugh lines. While describing his research on airline cockpit crews,  Richard remarked, “You know that line the flight attendants say during the safety briefing – ‘In the unlikely event of a water landing…’? What they should say is, ‘In the unlikely event of surviving a water landing…’” From then on, anytime I and my husband (who’d also attended Richard’s talk that day) heard that line on an airplane, we’d look at each other and burst out laughing. A few years later, of course, an entire plane-load of people did survive a water landing on the Hudson River. I called Richard up and said, “So… what do you say now, smarty-pants?”

In April of 1995, just a few months after I’d moved to HBS, Richard and I were walking on campus near the Dean’s House.  He glanced over the fence into the House’s backyard, and exclaimed about how fantastic the spring flowers were. More than a foot shorter than Richard, I allowed as how I couldn’t quite see them over that high fence... so I’d have to be content with his description. Without warning, and oblivious to the colleagues and students walking by us, Richard leaned over, grabbed me around the waist, and hoisted me high in the air so that I, too, could enjoy the spectacular sight. Of course, it was I who felt like the spectacular sight at that moment. How quintessentially Richard… to do something so silly and socially inappropriate out of an immensely generous impulse to share his joyful enthusiasm for life.

I will miss him very much.

-Teresa Amabile

I first met Richard Hackman as he arrived for his initial MRI appointment at Dana Farber. Immediately, I knew he was a very special and unique person. Although I could tell he was doing all he could to fight through the internal pain and suffering the cancer was causing him, he always had a smile on his face. Richard gave me great insight as to my endeavors of attaining my Masters of Social Work. I have since moved back to Maine, where I am originally from, to embark on this journey. I just found myself writing him an e-mail to catch up, as I had not heard from him in quite some time. I am terribly saddened to hear the news of Richard's passing. But, as I know he would want me to do, I am carrying with me the great deal of advice and encouragement he gave me and will continue to give me throughout this journey. I will be forever grateful for this.

-Morgan Fields

Sally Maitlis submitted this PDF "that, for me, captures who Richard was and the wonderful way he engaged with people."

I am very saddened by the news that Richard has passed away. Having joined the psychology department only fairly recently, I haven’t had the chance to get to know Richard as well as most of my other colleagues. However, it did not take long to realize that Richard was the kind of person who could, with only a few words, steer a discussion in a new and more promising direction. This quality, among many others, made him one of the most important voices in our department. Similarly, I was struck by his ability to motivate and inspire others with a few brief comments about a person’s work and advice on what path to follow. Many of our junior faculty members, including myself, have looked up to him and have been thankful for this advice and encouragement. Richard not only knew everything there is to know about team leadership, he knew how to practice the art of being a leader and mentor himself.

-Felix Warneken

Richard was a beloved member of the Orpheus family long before he joined the Board of Trustees, through the deep understanding he developed of the unique relationship of the Orpheus musicians to their Orchestra-- and his ability to communicate 'the reason for Orpheus.' When I was board Chair, he offered me much needed encouragement and understanding-- and lots of good laughs. And as a Trustee of Orpheus, Richard gave generously of his brilliance, his humor, his time and deep devotion-- and sometimes his anger, when needed, on the behalf of the Orchestra he loved. He will be sorely and sadly missed.

-Connie Steensma

Richard was finishing up at U. of Illinois just as I was starting the program and he was very kind and supportive to the "newby" from the South. Though at the time I did not realize this, what he provided was excellent mentoring. Over the years I have seen him at meetings and at events for the late Joe McGrath (in which Richard was always thoughtful to include me). I still recall his intensity, creativity, and engaging laugh, as well as the help and moral support he gave me at that transition in my life. I am very fortunate to have known Richard. We have lost a great man and an excellent friend.

-Rosemary (Lowe) Hays-Thomas, PhD, Professor Emerita

Richard Hackman was almost in tears in his Psych 1501 Psychology of Organizations lecture as he hammered home a point in my 19 year old ears: "revolutionaries get killed." He'd recounted the story of a gentleman killed for sticking to his ethics. It was as if this struggle defined Richard: how do you make contributions and stick your neck out far enough, but how do you do so in an ethical way that doesn't cause contextual effects and detractors to interfere to undermine your goals? Little did I know that he would shortly be advising me as a manager and board member at Harvard Student Agencies, later offing to advise me on my thesis on why some melodies are remembered (and others not), and finally hiring me later as my employer and co-author on the Group Brain project. Hailing from Central IL like I did, and with a brain that could not turn off, I always felt a special connection to Hackman. It took a mind like his for me to be motivated - I feared (and loved) his ability to ferret out an exaggeration, to ask a pointed question, to frame someone who slacked, to prod an advisee in the direction of something "useful" and a line of research that would "make a difference." He wanted me to go in the direction of academia, instead I've gone outside it. He thought if I left academia, I would become a lawyer, often later baiting me with quotes like "I've got the right recommendation letter for you when you decide to go to law school." I think he was in the last era of titans who will have the cocoon of the academy to explore fully projects of interest. Social media has and will launch his area of research on teams forth with increasing relevancy and legacy, while undermining the ivory tower that enabled his contributions. Hackman often accused me of not finishing what I started. His ability, no matter how procrastinated, to eventually get to the things he meant to complete was a hallmark of his multi-level, multi-tasking way. I used to put food in the kitchen on 15 in William James Hall, and it didn't matter how busy he was, he would always find where I hid the potato chips. Attempting to throw him for a loop, one day I put the chips in the back of the fridge. About two hours later I ran into Hackman in the elevator and he asked "why did you put the potato chips in the fridge?" I replied "to keep them fresher," I lied. "Oh really, wouldn't they get soggy?" I replied "not at the speed you seem to find them." He ended with "am I moving too fast for you?" meaning his mind of course -- to which I would say "no, because you brought mine up to speed." I will very much miss him.

-Sean Bennett

I probably spent more time with Richard in the elevator in William James Hall than anywhere else. We rode the elevator together for 25 years. I can't remember how we met. I was teaching in sociology and Richard in psychology but he was so friendly that we always chatted. He was funny and we actually got to know each other on these trips. Sometimes he would get off on the 5th floor or I would ride up to a higher floor so we could keep chatting. Eventually we served on some committees together and talked university politics. But mostly I remember how he was a people person, always outgoing and humorous and interested in others. I will miss him and I give my deepest sympathy to his family and friends.

-Mary Waters

I met Richard in his role as a board member of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra while I was serving as one of the ensemble's Artistic Directors. We hit it off immediately, especially once we realized that we liked the same restaurants in Watertown, MA. We did a lot of work together in our respective roles with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and would make a point of getting together occasionally at the aforementioned restaurants in Watertown. I was always so intrigued by his larger-than-life personality and I still cannot believe that this wonderful man is no more. He will always be with me as somebody that really left a lasting impression on me.

-Christof Huebner

Richard Hackman was a major influence in my life. I eagerly took his class as an undergraduate, and it rocked my world. His work has accompanied me throughout my life - I taught his theories in Cambodia to NGO staff and activists, and even brought his book Work Redesign with me on my honeymoon – my wife thought I was crazy to read about motivational tasks under a palm tree in Fiji, but it felt just right to me. As soon as I came back to Harvard as a graduate student, we reconnected, and had some wonderful conversations in his office on the 15th floor. Richard, you'll be greatly missed.

- Voop

Like so many here, Richard had a major impact on my life – both as a mentor and as a friend, just at the moment I needed some help.  At a low point in my grad school career, when I was struggling with my dissertation and dealing with the illness of my father, he was so thoughtful, kind, and pragmatic.  He would say, “Lets go for a walk,” and, yes, he would put his shoes back on, and we’d leave William James Hall and moving at a rapid clip, he’d gently ask questions that invariably seemed to clarify and simplify what previously seemed intractable.  I am forever grateful for that kindness and help.  He had amazing intellectual prowess that led to simple and elegant ideas – and he had a big heart.  He will be missed. 

-Jeff Bradach

I am terribly saddened to hear the news of Professor Hackman's passing. Beyond just being my undergraduate senior thesis advisor during the 2010-2011 academic year, he was THE pivotal figure in my undergraduate career and the person who opened up my eyes to the possibility of organizational behavior as a career. Whatever my future steps in the field, I know that Professor Hackman did and will continue to influence my life trajectory as I hold tight the advice he has given me, and for that I am forever grateful.

-Basima Tewfik

Richard and I were childhood friends and rode bicycles around our small home town (Virginia, IL) and built our own miniature golf course in his backyard. In high school, we participated in sports, school plays and played pinochle; we ate at each other’s houses and double dated. We were always interested in the physical sciences and when we went off to college, I figured he would be a physicist. When I returned home in the summer of 1959, Richard was enthused about research going on at Duke University involving ESP. At his insistence we spent the early part of the summer doing ESP experiments designed by him. The experiments failed but I believe he was hooked on psychology from that point on. His family moved and we went our separate ways but we stayed in touch over the years, participating in each other’s marriage, and exchanging the occasional communication discussing family, interests, and research. I last saw Richard at our 50th high school reunion in June, 2008. Everyone was so pleased that he agreed to attend.  In the Class Biography most of us spoke fondly of retirement but not Richard who said “Not for a while. The work is too engaging to let go.” About three years ago I sent him a photo; the photo showed a group of us taking a break from waterskiing, sitting on a log eating watermelon. He seemed to take great pleasure in it and said he had shown it to Harvard colleagues. In spite of his success, Richard never really changed much in the way he dealt with his friends. Two measures of a person’s life is did that person make a difference and did they remain grounded. Richard certainly measured up.

Our condolences to Judith, children and grandchildren.

-J. Michael Riemann