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A professor who trained many counsellors

Loved Bermuda: Robert Gibson

Tributes have been paid to a professor who trained many of Bermuda’s counsellors and has died aged 95.

In the 1970s, Robert Gibson began what would become a counsellor education programme lasting three decades on behalf of Bermuda’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health and Social Services.

Dr Gibson, the former chairman of the Department of Counselling and Counsellor Education at Indiana University-Bloomington, also served at the United States Air Force Base in Bermuda, where he taught courses on behalf of Indiana University.

That work enabled American servicemen and some Bermudians to obtain a university degree from Indiana University while engaged in active duty in Bermuda.

Extending the programme more broadly to prospective counsellors on the Island, Dr Gibson worked with co-director Marianne Mitchell to arrange intensive summer programmes, courses offered during the year, and local practica that made it possible for working professionals to obtain a master of science degree in education, with a major in counselling, from Indiana University-Bloomington.

The IU master’s level counselling programme expanded without a need to publicise it other than by word of mouth. Over time, Bermudians from outside education and social services enrolled in courses that met their interests and needs, including, among others, programme development and career development. The impact of the IU counselling programme on Bermuda was officially recognised by the Premier at the time, Sir John Swan, who wrote a letter to the IU president thanking him for the programme.

According to senior psychologists in Bermuda, the Island was fortunate to have a professor of Dr Gibson’s professional stature leading its programme.

His accomplishments included a doctoral degree from Columbia University in New York; he also headed counselling departments at the University of Toledo and Indiana University, conducted research in cross-cultural aspects of education, and, along with Dr Mitchell, wrote counselling and guidance textbooks including Introduction to Counselling and Guidance, which was adopted by more than 200 institutions in the United States and was translated into foreign languages, including Chinese.

Dr Gibson is also said to have shone in the classroom, with “exceptional teaching skills and a genuine interest in his students and the community in which he taught”.

His teaching skills and administration acumen were supplemented by a cadre of additional IU professors who both upheld and required high professional standards, and were well respected by the teachers and social workers who were taught each summer by the team led by Dr Gibson.

Senior psychologists Norma Astwood and Janet Kemp recalled that he adapted easily to the Bermudian culture, including wearing Bermuda shorts and using some local colloquialisms. They said he won the attention of his students who looked forward to his return to teach each year for more than 30 years.

Dr Astwood, the former senior psychologist at the Ministry of Education who liaised with Dr Gibson to train a cadre of school-home counsellors, said: “In my work with him, I found Bob’s attention to detail, his eagerness to ensure that students learnt ‘the trade, so to speak’, his tremendous sense of humour, the depth of his knowledge about his profession and his ability to select a terrific team of supporting professionals a real asset for an island wanting to upgrade and expand its own counselling personnel team.”

Dr Kemp, the senior psychologist who carried on the work initiated by Dr Astwood, said: “Bob inspired his students and those with whom he worked with his positive spirit, engaging smile, determination, self-deprecating humour, and genuine warmth.

“He was one of those truly special individuals whose love of life was infectious, and I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Bob and to have sustained a friendship with him over the years.

“He loved Bermuda and in recent years every time he had a setback to his health, he talked about getting better for his next trip to Bermuda. At the age of 92 following a lengthy recuperation from a stroke, he made the trip here and enjoyed getting together with special friends that he had made over the years.”

The psychologists said that although the IU training programme ended in 2000, Bermuda still benefits from the work that Dr Gibson carried out towards enabling counsellors to be “so ably prepared for their profession, which in turn helped transform the lives of many in Bermuda who benefited from their services”.

He died on July 23.

•Article submitted by Dr Astwood and Dr Kemp