Obituary: Richard M. Kurtz, former director of psychology clinical training, 76​

Richard M. Kurtz, PhD, associate professor emeritus of psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. He was 76 and residing in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Kurtz, whose research interests included hypnosis, attention and time cognition, joined the university in 1968 as an assistant professor of psychology. He became associate professor in 1972 and took over as director of the clinical training program for psychology in 1986, a position he would hold for more than 17 years.

“Rick Kurtz assumed the directorship of our clinical program in a very trying time,” said Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III, PhD, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and former chair of psychology. “He guided the program back to strength, and he shepherded it well throughout the years.”

Born in Wheeling, W.Va., in 1937, Kurtz earned three psychology degrees from the University of Cincinnati — a bachelor’s in 1959, a master’s in 1961 and a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1966.

Throughout his career, Kurtz taught a popular undergraduate course on abnormal psychology. He also taught psychology as an adjunct instructor in University College in Arts & Sciences for many years before retiring in 2007.

He is perhaps best known as an enthusiastic adviser of graduate students.

“Rick Kurtz was the backbone of the clinical psychology program,” said Stanley Finger, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology. “He not only guided the program but had many students taking their PhDs under his direction. I would venture to guess that he directed and signed off on more PhDs in psychology than any other faculty member to this day.”

Colleagues describe Kurtz as bright and open-minded and credit his personality, humor and unabashed use of the English language with adding both strength and color to the department. His creative flair for descriptive language was legendary and many of his most inspired phrases and sayings came to be called “Kurtz-isms.”

“Rick trained many, many students who cared deeply for him, and he also endeared himself to other faculty members in the department,” said Randy Larsen, PhD, chair of psychology and the William R. Stuckenberg Professor of Human Values and Moral Development. “He had a long career with us and helped our clinical program greatly.”

Kurtz also had diverse interests outside psychology, including a keen interest in military history, gourmet cooking and “classic” detective fiction.

“He liked horses, to shoot pistols and reading histories of war strategies,” Finger recalled. “He could converse about Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy with the same ease as when discussing Freud.”

In accordance with his wishes, there will be no memorial service.

Donations to support clinical training in the Department of Psychology may be sent to Washington University, Campus Box 1202, 7425 Forsyth Blvd., St. Louis, Mo. 63105.