Garry R. Walz: Past president of ACA was a nurturer of relationships and new ideas
Garry R. Walz, the 20th president of the American Counseling Association, passed away in December after a battle with cancer. He was 88.
Counselors who worked with Walz throughout his many decades as a leader, researcher and educator in the profession remember him for being both a high-energy visionary and a caring professional who nurtured relationships and new ideas.
Regardless of Walz’s esteemed standing in the counseling profession, he was “a caring human being who made you feel like you were the most important person in the world,” says Robert Smith, a professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and an ACA past president who counted Walz as a mentor. “Garry was quick-witted with high energy, along with a caring and kind manner seldom seen in individuals of his stature. … [He] was a true visionary, a futurist. Throughout his career he demonstrated leadership in just about everything you could think of in our profession. … Garry was a bold thinker. Nothing was too big for him.”
Walz led ACA, then called the American Personnel and Guidance Association, in 1971-1972. He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1961, teaching there until he retired as professor emeritus in 1993. He also worked in teaching, research and faculty positions at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Illinois State University, North Dakota State University and the University of Arizona.
“As one of our youngest presidents [Walz was in his early 40s when he served as president], Garry brought great energy to his role as our leader, and in subsequent years, some would say his level of energy and engagement grew even more,” says Richard Yep, ACA CEO. “Garry had a desire to ‘pay it back’ and was instrumental in helping those who were new counselors and counselor educators begin their professional journey.”
“When I was ACA president-elect, Garry was one of the first people to contact me and offer help,” remembers Loretta Bradley, a professor at Texas Tech University and ACA president in 1998-1999. “Indeed, Garry was very helpful in mentoring me. I always found him to be kind, friendly, sincere and honest. Whenever Garry gave me encouragement and advice, I found it to be the best. Truly, Garry was a leader and advocate for the counseling profession.”
Walz is also widely known in the profession for establishing and directing the Educational Research and Information Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services (ERIC/CASS) — originally ERIC/CAPS (Counseling and Personnel Services) — for close to 40 years. In addition, he was the driving force behind VISTAS, an ACA publication and database of counseling resources that he led for more than a decade, retiring in 2014.
“Garry will always be linked for me through the VISTAS creation,” says Catherine Roland, ACA’s current president and chair of the counseling program at the Washington, D.C., campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “I recall one of the first receptions at ACA held for VISTAS, with Garry as host, and the warmth and respect he exemplified as a leader and as a person to all. I had brought a number of doctoral students, and he took the time to meet and speak with every one. Such openness, I am certain, illustrated to my students that leaders can be supportive, creative and simply very nice. Garry will be deeply missed, for many reasons.”
ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan worked with Walz as both a book author and as the ACA project manager for VISTAS. “Garry was consistently supportive, yet provided the firm leadership necessary for both projects to be successful,” Kaplan says. “Garry had the ability to provide needed course corrections in a way that made you think that the improvements were coming from you rather than him. As a result of Garry’s visionary efforts, ACA has been able to produce and disseminate over 1,000 VISTAS articles. These have been unique proprietary writings written by counselors, for counselors. Many ACA members have been able to get their first — and maybe only — publication credit through VISTAS, and it was always fun to see new authors profusely thanking Garry for that opportunity at the annual ACA Conference VISTAS reception.”
Courtland Lee, ACA president in 1997-1998, also praised Walz for his lasting influence on the profession. “Garry Walz was a true gentleman and a scholar,” Lee says. “Through his work with ERIC and VISTAS, he was a true champion of scholarly excellence in the counseling profession. Personally, Garry was an important mentor to me. He always believed in and encouraged my ideas and my work. He was one of the true originals of the profession.”
Walz was also a frequent presenter at ACA’s annual conference, wrote and contributed to numerous counseling books and journals, and lead countless trainings and workshops for counselors over the years.
Jane Goodman, ACA president in 2001-2002, recalls a particular instance in which Walz’s character shone through. “[He] was giving a presentation at an ACA conference, and when he began, there were only four people in attendance,” she says. “Rather than do what most presenters [would] do in that situation, which is to say, ‘Let’s sit together and talk about the topic,’ he said, ‘The four of you are as entitled to my full presentation as if you had 96 others with you.’ So saying, he did a formal presentation, with slides, etc. That has always stuck with me — the respect he showed those of us who were there. … Garry was a role model, a friend and an esteemed colleague. I will miss him.”
In 2015, ACA established the Garry R. Walz Trailblazer Award in his honor, given annually to an ACA member who has established an “innovative program or practice that stands out in both originality and practicality,” as Walz did throughout his career.
Those who knew him well say the “trailblazer” title captures his spirit accurately.
“Garry’s work with ERIC in the early years was truly innovative,” says Brooke Collison, professor emeritus at Oregon State University and ACA president in 1987-1988. “He had visions of how technology could be used effectively to keep professionals informed. He took us from an era of microfiche to web-based searches and always was thinking ahead of the curve.”
Jeanne Bleuer, Walz’s longtime partner and professional collaborator, remembers that the pair began designing workshops to train counselors to use computers in the early 1980s, just as the technology was coming on the scene. “He was always ahead of the profession in the application of new things,” she says.
Bleuer had Walz as a professor and doctoral adviser before she began working for him. For decades, the pair co-led ERIC/CASS and VISTAS and collaborated on numerous workshops, research endeavors and other projects.
Walz was gifted with an ability to lead, knit ideas together and connect people, Bleuer remembers. Bleuer, Smith and Jillian Barr Joncas, VISTAS managing editor, are among those with whom Walz fostered decadeslong relationships.
“[Walz] was an amazing, kind and vital human being. He overflowed with ideas and enthusiasm,” says Joncas, who worked with Walz and Bleuer for 20 years. “He was the most approachable impressive person I can think of, and he always created a high-performing team of happy people in the workplace.”
Recalls Bleuer, “Even though we left Michigan in 1993, Garry had created such a feeling of community and teamwork in the [ERIC/CASS] clearinghouse that at least six of our staff members continued to get together for lunch several times a year to continue the camaraderie they felt. In fact, when they heard we had moved back to Michigan in 2006, they invited us to join them, which we gladly did right up to the week before Garry died.”
Above all, Bleuer says, she’ll remember Walz for his drive, warmth and creativity. “He was happy all the time and wanted other people to be happy. When we had staff meetings, we laughed for most of the half-hour. He was just very good-natured,” she remembers. At the same time, “he was really driven [and] just into new ideas all the time. He was very creative. He could take things from different disciplines, such as business or higher education, and pull them into what the implications could be for counselors. He would pull the idea in and say, ‘How could counselors use that?’ He was always imagining the future.”
Thelma Daley, a past president of ACA (1975-1976) and the American School Counselor Association, also remembers Walz’s humor and passion.
“He had a great sense of quiet humor, and every now and then he would send me a very pretty miniature Honda [toy car],” she remembers. “Our quiet joke was that we were going to use our Hondas and ‘roll on in to places with the latest development in the counseling profession.’ Words do not fully describe Garry; nor will we fully document all of his futuristic offerings and ideas, but it is hoped that each will remember his spirit of compassion, authenticity and inclusivity as well as his super intellect. What a role model for the counseling profession and for humankind!”
Walz’s many professional awards and accolades include the Distinguished Lifetime Award from the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (2013); the Eminent Professional Career Award from the National Career Development Association (1998); and the Kathleen and Gilbert Wrenn Humanitarian Award from ACA (1984). He also served as president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision and was chair and trustee of the ACA Foundation from 1989 to 1992.
In retirement, Walz loved to hike and nurtured a passion for photography. Several of his photographs were used as book covers for ACA publications.
“Garry was a trailblazer, an adventurer, explorer, naturalist and futurist,” Smith says. “In another wonderful place now, my bet is that Garry continues to be that explorer, trailblazer and leader. I believe others are now enjoying his great wit, humor and joyful, infectious laugh that one could hear from a distance.”
A memorial service was held for Walz in Chelsea, Michigan, on Dec. 17.
To donate to the Garry R. Walz Trailblazer Award in his memory, mail a check to the American Counseling Association, 6101 Stevenson Avenue, Suite 600, Alexandria VA 22304, attn.: Leadership Services. Or call Holly Clubb at 703.823.9800 ext. 212, for more information.