The Passing of Professor Richard O. Rouse, Jr.

I write today with sad news of another retired faculty member who has passed away. Richard O. Rouse, Jr., the Mary A. and William Wirt Warren Professor of Psychology, emeritus, who taught at the college from 1948 until his retirement in 1983, died April 16 at the Berkshire Medical Center at the age of 95.

When Dick came to the college in 1948, he was one of two faculty members in the Psychology Department, which was just two years old. Williams President John Chandler, in a testimonial to Rouse’s scholarship at the time, remarked that Dick embodied the college’s commitment to adding experimental psychology to the curriculum and newly emphasizing psychological theory. Indeed, Dick’s arrival enabled the college to offer a new major.

With the exception of one year at the University of Connecticut, Dick spent his entire teaching career at Williams. Throughout his time here he strove to update and reform various aspects of the psychology program. Dick chaired the department from 1961 to 1973, a period in which department staff and course offerings more than doubled. His chairmanship also coincided with construction of the Bronfman Science Center, and he was a key figure in planning and outfitting that building, as well as raising research and equipment funds.

A specialist in cognitive psychology with an emphasis on visual perception and the role of attention in short-term memory, Dick served for years as a consultant to the National Science Foundation (NSF). He also organized three NSF Summer Institutes in experimental psychology, six-week sessions designed to help college science teachers master new approaches to undergraduate teaching.

Dick was widely published in professional journals, and spent three sabbaticals at research institutions in England, where his family says he developed a lifelong love of all things British. He was a member of the Society of Sigma Xi and was elected a Fellow by the American Psychological Association in 1968.

After his retirement, Dick could often be found in a small office in the Psychology Department, where he worked nearly every day for several years on various projects and corresponded with his former students. He would welcome new faculty to the department with car tours of the Williamstown area and detailed maps of their housing options. And he regaled them with stories of his days at Harvard studying personalities theory with renowned psychologist Henry Murray.

Born in Dorchester, Mass., in 1920, Dick grew up in nearby Quincy. He graduated from Harvard in 1941, and went on to earn his master’s in 1943 and his Ph.D. in 1949, both from Yale. From 1942 to 1946, he served in the U.S. Air Force as an aviation psychologist in Dayton, Ohio.

In his retirement, Dick enjoyed traveling, but his first passion was sailing. He loved to sail and, as a boy, learned to sail small boats on the Weweantic River at Wareham, Mass., where his parents had a cottage. He raced dinghies at Harvard and later chartered larger boats from Maine to the Caribbean. When his eyesight no longer allowed him to captain, he became a yearly passenger on the American Eagle, a schooner sailing the Maine coast.

Dick was a longtime volunteer at Recording for the Blind and the Williamstown Board of Trade tourist booth. And he took great pleasure from participating in the weekly meetings of a local Italian conversation group.

Dick’s survivors include his wife, Regina Solzbacher Rouse; his children, Robert David Rouse of New York City, Linda Gates Rouse of Albuquerque, N.M. and Richard Oliver Rouse III and wife Margaret Rogers of Seattle, Wash.; and three grandchildren, Grayson Starner, Katharine Rouse and Malcolm Rouse. He was pre-deceased by his brother, James; wives, Mariam Gilbert and Peggy Gates; and a son, James ’81.

A memorial service celebrating the life of Richard Rouse will be held at the Williams College Faculty House at 11 a.m. on May 20.

Our thoughts are with Dick’s family and friends.