By Mary Ellen Aldrich, Arts & Culture Editor

Each year for the past 33 years USM has held the Child Psychopathology Institute. Dr. William Gayton established the collection of psychology institutes in 1985. He designed, maintained and ran each of the psychology institutes as well as presented at each one. Until a few years ago, there were three other institutes which were also offered: Health Psychology, Sports Psychology and Adult Psychopathology. Dr. Elizabeth Vella, the USM Psychology Department Chair, was a close friend and colleague of Dr. Gayton. Dr. Vella said that the institute was like his baby, he put a great deal of care and work into each one.

This same care and dedication that Dr. Gayton put into the psychology institutes was also present in his life as a professor, mentor, colleague and friend. He was an important member of the USM community and the surrounding communities. Dr. Gayton taught at USM for 44 years before retiring in August 2017. He continued to show up around campus and kept in touch with students and colleagues alike. On December 20, 2017, Dr. Gayton passed away unexpectedly due to complications from a stroke. As a result, the community has experienced a great loss and has been adjusting to many changes. His legacy, however, will continue to be kept alive by everyone who knew him.   

Dr. Gayton had always been very active in research and was extremely involved in the surrounding communities. It’s these connections outside of USM that are believed to have fostered the development of the psychology institutes. The institutes provided a unique experience for students.

“It gives undergraduate psychology majors a flavor of psychology research outside of USM,” said Dr. Vella. “The notion of the institute is that we are going to fly in researchers from all over the country to present to our students on their areas of specialization. It gives students an opportunity to learn about research within psychology taking place at places such as the University of New Orleans where Paul Frick is located.”

Paul Frick has presented at the child psychopathology institutes for several years and he will be returning to present this summer along with Anne Marie Albano. Both were close friends of Dr. Gayton. In addition to students, the institute is also frequently attended by local counselors, therapists and other clinicians who seek further education in regards to topics covered at the institute.

This year, the child psychopathology institute runs from June 20 to June 22. This is the first year that Dr. Gayton won’t be involved in the institute. Dr. Robert Thompson, a professor of psychology and close friend and colleague of Dr. Gayton, will be taking over this year.

“I’m just hopping on quickly to fill in and go ahead as planned,” said Dr. Thompson. “Karin Pires and her team do an enormous amount of work behind the scenes.”

Dr. Thompson and Dr. Gayton worked together to mentor students and often published with their students. When Dr. Thompson interviewed with Dr. Gayton back in 2001 to join USM’s community, Dr. Gayton brought up the summer psychology institutes as one of the points of discussion. The institutes have taken place every summer without fail, but due to funding and department cuts, the institutes gradually went from the original four, to solely child psychopathology. This year, the timing, structure, programming, curriculum and evaluation will remain the same as it has been in previous years.

“The biggest difference will be the absence of Bill Gayton,” said Dr. Thompson, “but people’s memories will carry him into that this year.”

The future of the psychology institutes is still uncertain. Dr. Thompson has been talking with Karin Pires, Director of registration and scheduling services, about continuing the institute next summer. “I can’t speak for [Pires] or the university plans, but I would be enthusiastic about re-energizing future institutes while still maintaining what made them unique.”

But there is also the possibility that this could be the last of the psychology institutes.

“The presenters of the child psychopathology institute were very close to Dr. Gayton, and his passing was very sudden,” said Dr. Vella. “I think that they wanted to do it one more time in his honor.”

Dr. Gayton had mentioned over the years that he wanted Dr. Vella to take on the health psychology institute again once he retired. But the amount of work required to maintain the institute is a lot, and Dr. Vella already has a large number of responsibilities within the department and adding the institute is not something that can be added to her plate right now.

Aside from the psychology institute, Dr. Gayton was very much involved with students, faculty, staff and the community. Faye Warner, a senior psychology student, was a student of Dr. Gayton and worked with him, both in research and as a teacher’s assistant. Warner said that Dr. Gayton always had research ideas at the ready for students. “He had this ‘magical binder’ and you could pick whatever kind of research you wanted to do, Warner said. “His mentorship and very comfortable approach to research made it attainable for students, even in a university that has very little lab space.”

Warner is still in the midst of a research project she started with Dr. Gayton. She has everything in order and said that she could probably finish it within a week or so. But rather than finish it, she’s choosing to leave it for a future student to pick up. Warner was one of Dr. Gayton’s students and friends who were with him when he passed away.

“I think I just got a little disheartened for a while when he passed,” said Warner. “You know when your idol dies and you get this feeling of ‘I’m going to do even better than before’? I had that feeling from Gayton, but also that it was okay if I didn’t finish it right now…It’s like his research book he had…it’s a last ditch effort for leaving that as a legacy.”

Being the only clinical psychologist on the USM faculty meant that the responsibility of training and preparation of students for clinical programs fell almost solely on Dr. Gayton. Without him, the department is missing a key element, academically, professionally and otherwise. The department has hired someone who will step in to fill the need for a clinician on the faculty, but they will by no means be replacing Dr. Gayton as a person.

Dr. Gayton never stayed in his own corner of the world. He made it a point to visit everyone and engage with as many people as possible. One of the many places Dr. Gayton frequented was the Lifeline fitness group at the Sullivan Gym.

“That’s where he joked that he got all of his scuttle butt,” said Dr. Thompson. “It was always from folks of the gym. It was his line of community news, politics both local and national.”

Dr. Gayton’s impact on the community is quite apparent. He touched the lives of students, faculty, staff and anyone else who ever met him. He was a proud Irishman with a kind heart and a generous soul. He gave so much to his students and friends, and did so readily. He instilled a passion for lifelong learning in each of his students and was a critical thinker and an open-minded critic; traits which he also inspired in his students.

“I have characterized Gayton as the departmental mascot, lovingly,” said Dr. Vella. “He had a great sense of humour, loved people, loved teaching. He used to say to me, when we would touch base from time to time, that his students keep him alive…He loved his work.”

“But for me, as chair,” Dr. Vella continued, “he was my unofficial mentor and confidant. So I feel like I am without that force in my life since his passing in December.”

Every December since 2007, Dr. Gayton gave Dr. Vella a ride to the airport so she could fly home to be with her family.

“2017 was no exception,” said Dr. Vella. “He took me to the airport and he suffered a stroke that same afternoon. So it was very hard for me to be three thousand miles away. I wasn’t able to say goodbye. But, I was grateful that they streamed the memorial and that I could watch it from away.”

On December 29, 2017 a memorial was held in honor of Dr. Gayton on the Portland campus. Many of his friends, students and colleagues attended the memorial and shared memories and stories about Dr. Gayton. Those who couldn’t attend were able to watch the memorial from a live stream online. His passing had a large impact, especially for his closest friends.

“It was really strange to come back to the dept for spring 2018 without him here,” said Dr. Vella. “In January and February I kept expecting to hear his voice when I came into the office. He was an early bird and I’m a night owl, so he would be here before I would get to work. Whenever I would show up to work he would raise his fist and shout ‘I beat Vella!’…I still feel like he’s here even though he’s not.”

Dr. Thompson spoke at Dr. Gayton’s memorial service. “Gayton was utterly instrumental in the start of dozens and dozens of students careers,” Dr. Thompson said. “You don’t go that long at that level of engagement and dedication without a deep love of the work absolutely baked in. He was a skeptic, but not a cynic. He had an open heart.”

Dr. Gayton contributed so much to the community. His dedication to students and desire to help those around him were some of the many driving factors in his career as a professor. He has been an inspiration to everyone around him and will continue to inspire and encourage through the legacy, family, friends, colleagues and work that he has left behind.

Warner has commissioned an artist from Lithuania to sketch a chihuahua, which has an uncanny resemblance to Dr. Gayton’s dog named Lilly, to be made into pins. The pins are part of a fundraiser that Warner has organized to raise money for a memorial bench honoring Dr. Gayton. The bench will be placed on the Portland campus once enough funds have been raised. The pins will be available to purchase by donation at the faculty awards on May 16. Pins can also be bought by emailing [email protected].

As the semester comes to a close and another academic year is completed, Warner poses a request to the USM community. Each year, Dr. Gayton hosted an end of year psychology department mixer. This was one of Dr. Gayton’s long-standing contributions to the community which brought together students in celebration. The request is this: “everyone graduating or just having an end of semester party, please raise a toast to Dr. Gayton. Just take a minute to honor him and remember him.”


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