Promoting literacy through research, education, and advocacy
Serving Pennsylvania & Delaware Become a Member Donate Sponsors

In Memoriam

 

 

Kit Gordon-Clark, 1934-2015

 

Katherine Masella Gordon-Clark, or Kit, passed away on October 25 after a full and generous life. Kit was a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a professional colleague, and a tireless and effective advocate for children with learning disabilities.

 Kit was born in Buffalo, New York, and moved with her family to Philadelphia as a child; she always considered herself a Philadelphian at heart. Kit attended Greene Street Friends and Germantown Friends Schools and then entered Bryn Mawr College on a full scholarship. She received her B.A. in English, Cum Laude, in 1956, her Masters, and then her Ph.D. in 1983, completing a dissertation titled Learning to Listen: A Study of the Development of Auditory Selective Attention in Seven-, Nine- and Eleven-Year Old Normal and Seven and Nine-Year Old Learning Disabled Children. Kit credited her husband Matthew for helping her to juggle the demands of academics and of raising a young child, her beloved son Nathaniel. In a reunion report Kit wrote “juggling many roles… would not have been possible without the support of my husband, who died unexpectedly in 1987 of a heart attack.”

 Kit also wrote in the reunion report that she, as “the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, and the first woman in her family to go to college…wishes to thank an institution (Bryn Mawr College) that believes in and supports women in their many roles.” Kit remained very connected to Bryn Mawr College all her life and was an enthusiastic volunteer. Her many contributions included being Vice President of the Bryn Mawr College Alumnae Association (1974-77), Publicity Chairman of the BMC Antiques Show (1974), Class Collector for Campaign for 21 Million (elected by her classmates), Reunion Manager of the BMC Class of 1956 (elected by her classmates), and Chairman of the Alumnae Regional Scholarship Committee (1966-69). Kit was always involved in the class reunions, generously opening up her home to classmates and volunteering in many ways. One of Kit’s former students and mentees wrote “She embodied the true spirit of a Bryn Mawr woman who spoke her mind, brokered in graciousness, and shared openly of her knowledge, her heart, and her spirit. “

 Kit began working at the Bryn Mawr College Child Study Institute (CSI) in 1977 and was there for the remainder of her professional career; she was Director of the Assessment Clinic and then Associate Director of CSI. Her specialty was in the assessment of learning disabilities and emotional struggles in young people, and she was a master in that field. A professional colleague who worked closely with Kit described her as “brilliant-she understood the assessment process and assessment measures both in theory and practice. Her ability to interpret test results to provide the best recommendations to help children manage and overcome their learning differences was superlative. Her reputation as an expert in assessment reached far and wide.” Another colleague said that “parents were grateful for her recommendations; they always requested that she do repeat evaluations of their children.”

 For many years Kit taught the definitive graduate Assessment course, and supervised students and younger colleagues, and it was in this capacity that her gifts as a teacher and mentor were most apparent. Kit’s enthusiasm for understanding the relevant research, for conducting a comprehensive and compassionate evaluation of each child, and for teaching was contagious. A former student said of Kit: “Kit continually strived to be ‘at the top of her game’ in terms of her knowledge base and skills. Those who knew her will recall her vast collection of books, many of which were relevant to her field of study and work, and her frequent sharing of what she had learned from her readings around the lunch table. Those who were trained by her will recall the numerous journal articles assigned and the nuggets of knowledge learned that we all still carry with us today. Kit’s model in this regard taught me the benefit in striving to stay ‘at the top of my game,’ and the necessity of it to the children and families with whom I work.“

 All of us who were supervised by Kit were very lucky. Kit was described by a former student as “that rare educator who could convey her expertise while still treating her students as emerging colleagues who were worthy of her respect and full consideration. “ Kit’s standards were high and she inspired her students to maintain those standards. She created an atmosphere in which one could admit to mistakes while strategizing about how to correct them, always for the sake of the child and while maintaining the highest ethical standards. Another former student tells of a time when she sought Kit’s support after making a scoring error: “As I told her what happened, Kit leaned back in her chair and smiled with such warmth and kindness (those who worked with Kit can certainly picture this). She then…compassionately helped me problem-solve my dilemma.” Kit was generous with her time and always made herself available for support and supervision, whether at lunch over a salad or in her office behind closed doors. A colleague once said to me: “Kit was CSI.” She created an atmosphere of trust, safety and respect around the learning and supervision process.

 Kit and her husband Matthew’s passion for helping those with dyslexia translated into early involvement in developing a state branch of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) (then known as the Orton Society). The Greater Philadelphia Branch (now the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, PBIDA) was chartered in 1979. Matthew was Treasurer in the early years and Kit held various offices, including Vice-President in 1989 and Branch President in 1989-91. She was closely involved in organizing national meetings of IDA in Philadelphia in 1976, 1986 and 2004, remained actively involved with the branch well into the 21st century, and was on the National Nominating Committee in 2006-08. Kit always attended the National IDA meetings, and many of us have warm memories of joining her on those trips. In 1998 Kit received the PBIDA Janet Hoopes Award for her service to the community, an honor well deserved.

Kit’s passion for learning, for giving, for teaching and for helping others touched many lives. She will be missed. In the remainder of this article, a small sample of Kit’s many friends, students, and professional colleagues share their thoughts.

 Personal Statements:

  •  “I first met Kit in the "non-res" room at Bryn Mawr College where those of us who did not live on campus shared a meeting room in the basement of Thomas Library. Kit had a passion for learning which was nurtured by her years at Germantown Friends School…She was so grateful for her scholarship to Bryn Mawr… She enjoyed sharing stories of childhood summers visiting grandparents in Virginia, claiming that her love of reading was encouraged when the most comfortable spot in hot hot Charlottesville was a hammock with a book. As an adult she was a member of several book clubs and shared many titles and authors with me. She also loved going to the movies; in our later years we had a New Year's Eve tradition of a movie, then dinner. She will be missed by us all.” (colleague and friend)
  •  “Kit was my College Classmate and very close friend for sixty years. We became close as non-resident, scholarship students who reveled in the multi-faceted richness of our Bryn Mawr College experience. Our friendship continued with the many extra-curricular activities we enjoyed together. The main shared love was conversation about all we were learning and doing with our work, family and social activities- the good things as well as the problems we were trying to resolve. We played tennis singles in college and then mixed doubles with our husbands. For several years I was also lucky enough to visit her in Vermont where in addition to our schmoozing we visited crafts shops and fairs, another favorite activity. We loved opera, and the occasional trips to New York while Mathew was alive become regular indulgences after his untimely death when we became Saturday matinee subscribers. For six to eight weekends a year for twenty-four years Kit came to my home on Friday for dinner and stayed through Sunday breakfast. She is sorely missed. “ (long-time friend)
  •  “Brilliant, fluent, she was able to articulate an argument or a reason brilliantly…wonderful classmate, stimulated other people...warm and helpful colleague...I was in awe of her in class.” (fellow student in psychology Ph.D. program at Bryn Mawr College).
  •  “I met Kit in the first class I took when we were both doctoral students at Bryn Mawr in the 70's…In her professional life, Kit was a model for everyone in her concern for the clients and students that she worked with over the years. As a friend, she possessed a warmth of personality and a dry wit that could surface at unexpected moments with an astute comment or observation. We miss her and will always remember her fondly.” (contemporary in the Bryn Mawr College Ph.D. program, friend and colleague at CSI)
  •  “Kit was a close friend, a classmate, of my wife’s. Kit and Matthew were very entertaining people, intellectually inclined…I would listen to these erudite discussions…She and my wife were voracious readers. Kit was a great conversationalist, I chimed in on politics, we were all on the same page, liberals. We saw Kit in Vermont as well…her house there was full of books...Kit loved it there, it was a nice change from a very active professional life.” (a friend of many decades)
  • “I first met Kit when I joined the (PBIDA) board, in 1984… Kit and Matthew were already pillars of the board, often providing the sagest counsel…The year of preparation for hosting the 1986 national conference was memorable…I remember Kit as the voice of calm and reason, able to resolve conflicts while also acknowledging/soothing hurt feelings. Kit always had a kind of magisterial presence…(in discussions) she often provided the last word with a pithy observation or logical conclusion. Kit commanded rather than demanded attention and respect. She projected a quiet dignity and integrity that seemed to deepen after her tragic, early loss of Matthew. She was a person of substance and of gravitas. Outside of Janet Hoopes, her own mentor I think, it is hard to think of anyone who was as steady, profound and long lasting an influence on PBIDA.” (long time friend and professional colleague)
  •  “ I knew Kit both in her role as a parent…and as a colleague. Over the years, we collaborated many times over students she had tested and I was working with...I thought her reports were informative, helpful, and illuminating. I was sad to learn of her death and miss her leadership…at CSI.” (fellow professional)
  •  “Kit was my colleague and friend for 25 years…A multitude of doctoral students benefited from Kit’s astute and tireless supervision of their assessment work when they had placements and/or jobs at CSI… Kit’s dedication to helping children and adolescents with learning differences through her involvement with the Pennsylvania Branch of IDA and her service on the Board at Delaware Valley Friends School inspired many of her junior colleagues to similar professional engagement. Her commitment to children and families, her professionalism, her breadth of knowledge of the field, and her dedication to service made her a wonderful role model for generations of psychologists.” (professional colleague)
  •  “Kit was my teacher, colleague, and friend. A long time ago I spent a year proofreading and editing her reports at Child Study. You get to know a lot about someone from her writing, and Kit, in print, was just as smart, funny, and direct as she was in person. I was privileged to know Kit outside of work, too; she opened her home in Swarthmore to us, took us to the opera in New York and her almost-rustic cabin in Vermont. The beautifully-crafted wooden toys she gave my children still have pride of place on our shelves. I miss the strong and poetic woman she was.”  (Colleague at Child Study for many years, and friend for even longer)
  •  “Kit was a highly intelligent and caring person, with a delightful sense of humor. As a colleague at CSI, I appreciated her willingness to share knowledge and answer questions. She always empowered and supported the reading staff and was the ultimate professional in every way.” (professional colleague)
  •  “Kit was an extremely hard worker who devoted much of her life to all things Bryn Mawr…(She was) best known for her thorough, comprehensive, insightful evaluations of children with reading disabilities and identification of strategies to help them. (She) had a strong interest in dyslexia and how children learn to read, most likely fostered by her own love of reading and the important role it played in her life.” (professional colleague)
  • “ Kit was involved in all aspects of PBIDA, and we were so proud that she was on the National Nominating Committee. What I recall most about her was her steady, thoughtful approach, her intellect, and of course, her commitment. “ (professional colleague)
  •  "Kit was brilliant – she understood the assessment process and assessment measures both in theory and practice. Her ability to interpret test results to provide the best recommendations to help children manage and overcome their learning differences was superlative. Her reputation as an expert in assessment reached far and wide…Kit was also a voracious reader and she introduced me to many books I might otherwise not have read -- in particular – Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. There is a short passage in that book that I read at Matthew’s funeral - I will quote a small part of it here because it applies to my relationship with Kit as well: Aristotle describes the “perfect friendship – a friendship between equals and founded in goodness. Each person wishes good for the other just as she would for herself:" In fact, Aristotle says “a friend is another self.”  (friend and colleague)
  •  “Kit was the best assessment psychologist, very good with the children, her reports were clear for lay people, not jargon-filled. Her feedback sessions were very helpful to parents. Kit served on the Crossroads Board and was incredibly helpful to the Board in helping us understand what dyslexia meant. She held sessions with the faculty to help them understand reports; this was very, very helpful. She made an impact on our school.” (long time friend and professional colleague)
  •  “People often ask me where I got all my knowledge and assume all I know was taught in graduate school. But really, my teacher and mentor was Kit. She was always available for short or long consultations and helped me translate the psychological data into good remedial strategies. She helped me to understand what would work and why it would work…She was so patient! And so smart!” (colleague at CSI)
  • "Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence...In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul....Be cheerful. Strive to be happy." For many years, Kit chose to decorate her office at Bryn Mawr with these words. With her brilliant mind, caring heart, and unending devotion to teaching and learning, Kit lived these words. Throughout her entire lifetime, Kit remained dedicated to the field of learning disabilities. Recently, when we met for lunch, Kit asked to hear all about what has been happening in schools. As always, she listened with extraordinary empathy and great generosity, providing insights that were energizing and unique. We are all so fortunate to have known Kit.” (a former student)
  •  “While Kit certainly taught me a lot of what I know about psychoeducational assessment and learning disabilities, the greatest gifts she gave me are life lessons that have shaped my professional, and at times, personal lives... Equally powerful were the lessons learned when I fell short.… (Kit) helped me begin to understand the professional growth that results when we can acknowledge our missteps and learn from them. I have carried this lesson with me throughout my career, and I hope I have been successful in bestowing it upon trainees whom I have taught and supervised, as well as upon my own children. These lessons, and the many more shared by others, are Kit’s legacy - passed down by her and passed on by those who had the privilege and honor of knowing her - thereby keeping her very much alive and present in spirit.“ (former student in Kit’s assessment class and supervisee at Child Study Institute”)
  • “Katherine Gordon-Clark, Kit, was a consummate teacher, mentor and ultimately friend...She was that rare educator who could convey her expertise while still treating her students as emerging colleagues who were worthy of her respect and full consideration. This is likely why Kit eventually became more than a teacher to so many of us, as our extended graduate school tenures transformed into lifetimes spent celebrating the joys and sorrows that life inevitably brings. Kit was always at the center of that extended family unit, and she will be sorely missed as the ultimate Matriarch of my Bryn Mawr Family. I only hope that I am someday remembered as fondly by my students as Kit will forever be cherished by me. Do mind that ramp Kit, as you will be sorely missed.” (Composed with love and affection by a lifelong mentee and well known Kit Gordon-Clark impersonator)
  •  “Kit had an uncanny ability to combine an unwavering and almost stern sense of competence and strength with a kindness and warmth that always let you know that she really saw who you were and what you needed. I imagine that this combination is what supported her very capable assessment work over the years. This combination of qualities was grounding to me as a graduate student (and, I suspect so many others) – Kit always helped us to feel cared for as she taught us. I didn’t know it at the time, but Kit’s “way of being” provided an exceptional model of how to be a strong, warm, kind, psychologist and teacher. I hear her voice and direction in my head often, and strive to be the kind of teacher to others that she was to me.” (former student in Kit’s assessment class, former supervisee at Child Study Institute, and – as Kit would call me – one of the Stardust Twins).

 

Statements from: Anne van Arkle, Jean Bay, Martha Biery, Amy Cuddy, Maxine Field, Berit Haahr, Bart Harrison, Roslyn Harrison, Staci Heindel, Tom Jennings, Barbara J. Lorry, Joan Manhardt, Leslie Rescorla, Carol Roberts, Mary Rourke, Cynthia Solot, Craig Stevens, Linda Taylor, George Vosburgh

 Eugenie W. Flaherty, Ph.D.