In Memory of Mentor and colleague, Jeanette Reuter

Tribute to Jeanette M. Reuter’s legacy.

I’m Paula Hartman-Stein, a graduate from Kent State’s clinical psychology department. From 1979 to 1983 I was one of Jeanette Reuter’s psychology graduate students and post-doctoral trainees, one of the over 40 students who did a dissertation under her tutelage and guidance.

A great teacher is one whose lessons are remembered many years after they were taught, even after the person’s death. Jeanette Reuter was a great teacher whose legacy is inspiring, powerful, and far reaching.  I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from her, some amusing, some profound and all memorable. I appreciate this opportunity to share them with you.

Jeanette played multiple roles in my life. Besides being my major professor at Kent, she became my research associate, co-author, confidante, counselor, grandmother figure to my son, and in later years, one of my dearest and closest of friends. I used to call her my mentor, but she did not like that term because she said it implied only giving and not receiving in return.

  1. Around 1980 I complained about a supervisor who was assigned to me at Akron General where I was beginning an internship. She knew the man and shared my criticism. Her advice: During supervision sessions, bring knitting. At least you will be doing something useful with your time. Lesson learned: “When bored in a meeting, multi-task.”
  2. In April 1982 on the very morning of my dissertation defense someone called Kent Hall and said a bomb will go off at noon. At 11:30 am immediately after the defense, Mike Hirt asked Jeanette if she took the threat seriously. Her response, “I don’t know what you are going to do, but Paula and I are going to Captain Brady’s right now! Lesson learned: “When there’s a threat of a bomb, don’t take a chance, leave the building.”
  3. Motherhood lessons: Everyone who knew Jeanette knew how important the role of mother was to her. I found a flyer of a community program she participated in. Her talk was The Motherhood mandate.
    1. When my son, my only child, was about 18 or 20 months of age, for reasons unknown he flung himself on the floor with arms and legs flailing. I thought it was a seizure, so who do I call? Jeanette. In a calm, patient voice, she said, “Paula, that is called a tantrum. Just keep him on the floor so he’s safe and it will pass.” She was right. Lesson learned: There’s no need to panic when a tantrum ensues. Just ride it out.
    1. My son is now 27 and I have been thinking recently about another important life lesson. “When your kids are little you are nose to nose with them, and you can control most everything, what they wear, what they eat, who their friends are. But when they grow up, your relationship changes. It is as though you are no longer their mother, you become something different, like a good, trusting friend. Lesson learned: Stop trying to control your adult children and your relationship will be better as a result.
  4. Public Policy: From 1992-1993, a very fortuitous thing happened, Jeanette and I were both chosen by the Harvard research team of economist William Hsiao to be members of the 7 person Technical Consulting Group for Clinical Psychology, for Resource- Based Relative Value Scale Study. This is THE system on which reimbursement for Medicare and all third party payers is derived. The meetings at Harvard became tense and contentious when Dr. Hsiao sensed that half of the group were colluding, basically saying the same things to please APA, to toe the party line. Jeanette told me to stand my ground, to respond based on my professional expertise and knowledge and not to be controlled by APA. Lesson Learned: Display professional integrity at all times, even at the cost of losing popularity with APA or other organizations.
  5. In 1994 Jeanette and I co-authored an opinion piece article, “Proactive health care reform: Integrating Physical and Psychological Care.” We made the argument that psychologists should work side by side primary care physicians and be the first, not the last of the healthcare team to see the patient.  Our article won an award from Division 42 for its innovation. Jeanette was prescient and ahead of her time. 20 years later psychologists have begun having roles in primary care, but we’re still not the first responders in that setting. Nurse practitioners are. But we are at least now on the team.

Lesson learned: Psychologists are essential practitioners for improving the health, not just the mental health of those who seek medical care.

  • Treatment of older adults: Another less known area of Jeanette’s legacy is her inspiration and assistance in my work regarding the psychological treatment of older adults.

In 1991 I sought her help to design a caregiver questionnaire to assist with the evaluation of older adults at risk for dementia. She assisted in the design of the Behavioral Competence Inventory (BCI), a 106 item yes/no formatted questionnaire. We published one research study in 1999 and I presented a poster in 2002 at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s disease in Stockholm Sweden, with Joneen as one of the co-authors. In 2004 we began another study on it with a researcher from CWRU but unfortunately because of health issues with Louis and herself we did not complete the study. But academic rigor and publications aside, the BCI has been part and parcel of every neuropsychological evaluation of older adults I did in my career from 1991 to 2015, when I closed my private practice. The questionnaire provided structure and covered 7 areas of function. Lesson Learned: When evaluating an older adult for memory functioning, emphasize the remaining competencies, not only the deficits.

  • When Jeanette was my internship supervisor at AGMC, she told me repeatedly, never, ever give up on the frail older adult. I did not comprehend the insight of that lesson until many years later.  During post doc training 8 years after I graduated from Kent, I learned about neuroplasticity, cognitive reserve, all of these concepts that mean Jeanette was so right. Partly as a result of Jeanette’s inspiration, my career path has been shaped I started the Center for Healthy Aging, edited a book on cognitive fitness and now teach other professionals non-pharma strategies to enhance mood and memory in late life. Lesson learned: We continue to learn until we are actively dying, so never ever give up.
    • Keys to a Sharp Mind: During one visit in 2005 when Jeanette and Louis were in Laurel Lake, Jeanette told me about her position on the Health and Wellness committee there. She looked at me, pointed her finger to me, and said, “The activities in this place are those of a cruise ship. They are not stimulating. And you have to do something about it!” What could I do? She showed me how. She gave me the right contacts and I wrote a 3 year grant funded by the Reinberger Foundation to begin Keys to a Sharp mind. Jeanette’s legacy lives on well after the grant was over. The programming changed to a very high level, the residents loved it and came to expect it, so now 7 years after the grant was over, Keys to A Sharper Mind continues…in different ways but the level of programming has never been the same.
  • Jeanette was a pragmatist throughout her life, revealing minimal interest in religious or spiritual topics; I saw her as an agnostic. Shortly after she moved to Laurel Lake Retirement community, she began attending on a weekly basis “centering prayer” sessions that were led by another resident, Joe Fitzgerald, a devout Catholic. On Saturday morning exactly a week before she died I had lunch with her and one of her friends from LL.  I asked how she was doing as it was only a month since Louis had died. During what would be our final meeting, Jeanette said she was fine and partly due to the people at Laurel Lake. She said those with whom she had the most in common and to whom she felt the closest were the Catholics. My jaw dropped. This was the first time I learned of her new rich spiritual life. She said she loved attending the meditative sessions. Lesson learned: The burgeoning research findings on Meditation are right. It is a practice that lessens loneliness and helps us find inner peace and tranquility that might even work with agnostics. 

Thank you Jeanette for all you have taught me and inspired me to do in my life. I am forever grateful. Jeanette died in mid-October 2006, 3 months after my biological mother died. Jeanette was my professional mother. I delivered this in her memory in October 2016 at the dedication of a classroom at Kent State University in her honor.