Wednesday, April 22, 2020

D. Richard Laws

By Sandy Jung & Carmen Zabarauckas

This past week, we lost a giant in our field.  Dr. D. Richard Laws passed away in Victoria on April 13.  Although his mind and will were stronger than ever, his body finally betrayed him after a lengthy struggle with his physical health.  Sadly, his passing comes a mere 11 months after he lost his wife, Cynthia.

Richard started in this field in the 1960s. We could go on at length about his accomplishments, and we should, but you can find them easily, just google him, which even posthumous, he would really like you to do. 

Since his start, he never stopped, quickly becoming a major contributor in our field.  His impact is easily seen over the decades regarding how we conduct treatment with individuals who sexually offend, ranging from behavioural treatments to relapse prevention, to desistance of sexual offending and historically surveying sexual offender assessment.  He easily gained and retained enormous respect and admiration by his peers for his thoughtful contributions, advancing the field and evolving our understanding and treatment of sexual abusers.  He even dabbled in newfangled sexual interest assessments for a while, leaving his mark, and again, changing the trajectory for the better. Having been past president and a constant presence at every ATSA conference along with his wife Cynthia, he was no stranger to the ATSA organization.  He regularly contributed to reviewing conference submissions, sat on the Editorial Board of the flagship journal, Sexual Abuse, and was a recipient of the Lifetime Significant Achievement Award. He also regularly connected with the ATSA office staff, whether they wanted it or not.

So, to say he was an icon in our field is an understatement. He had vision, insight, and an unwavering sense of we can and should do better.

But it wouldn’t be true to reflect on Richard without saying who Richard was.  For those of you who have had some interaction with him or for those of you who have really gotten to know Richard well over the years, it will not be surprising to say that Richard was, well, let’s just say… a curmudgeon at the best of times.  His gruff demeanour, his bluntness, his need for you to just get-to-the-point-already attitude were obvious to anyone who has met Richard.  And heaven forbid you thought you could befriend him by calling him the colloquial short version of his name...

Being his past doctoral students, we knew this all too well.  And astonishingly, we not only survived it, we have thrived.  He taught both of us a great deal; he was an unrelenting and, at times, an unforgiving mentor.  In essence, Richard was a hard-ass, who was always blunt with his words and dogmatic in his approach to things.  We say this honestly because after knowing him for well over 20 years, we appreciate that his impact on us and what we learned from him was invaluable and pivotal in our careers.  He would accept nothing less than the hard-fought truth from us. We are sure that we are not the only ones.

There wasn’t a day when Richard wasn’t his usual well-known peevish self. He made us work hard, do things on our own.  One of our common recollections is the number of times he would introduce us to someone, when we were at our first ATSA conference, and then he would just walk away, leaving us with mouths agape to do our own bidding.  Richard was never one to pamper others or spoon-feed compliments.  One of the best compliments we ever got was “hey kid, you didn’t screw up!”  And in the end, it paid off for him and for us.  We did work hard, in part because we wanted to impress him.  We did things independently, and often the hard way.  When we hit obstacles, he was tough about it, telling us to take the challenge and it always seemed to work out in the end. 

On occasion, and we do mean rare, he would show his soft side, that big but guarded heart lying underneath. He was always there for us, through all of it. He would tease, encourage, and occasionally taunt. But he never lost faith in what we could accomplish, in grad school and in our careers. He would light up when he talked about his grandson Clinton, and when Carmen was balancing three jobs, her master’s thesis, and a new puppy, he would run around the clinic with the puppy so it would stop chewing the PPG equipment.

Over the years, we heard that he said a lot of nice things about us. It was lovely to hear, but rarely from Richard himself.  Funny thing is that we didn’t mind it anymore, it actually became an inside joke we had with one another (you know you made it from the Richard Club when he eventually gives you an off-handed compliment). Many of you know how that goes.

His toughness has always paid off for him.  He’s never taken an easy route.  His career took him from Florida and California to Canada… why in the world would he move to a place that has -40C weather?  He secured a difficult-to-obtain grant for his high risk violent offender program in Edmonton and when funding ended, found himself in a new role as a clinician in Victoria, reinventing himself along the way.

There are so many things to say, but in this, we can sum it up. We loved him as a mentor, a father figure, and a friend.  It is a sad day in our field and our extended ATSA family that we have lost him; he will be sorely missed.  We truly believe he has left us and our field in a better state than when he entered, and for that we are forever grateful. 

RIP DRL. We will greatly miss you. 

For those of you who would like to sign a condolences card (it will be sent to Clinton), please follow this link. The card, where you can add pictures as well as thoughtful words, will be open for signatures until 11:59pm PST May 14th, 2020.

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