In memoriam: J. Barry Mascari
Written by Jane M. Webber
The American Counseling Association has lost an extraordinary member and leader who dedicated his career to promoting the healing power of counseling relationships, and to advocating for unification of the counseling profession. J. Barry Mascari died May 18 of COVID-19-related complications after a long battle with the virus.
Barry was not only a visionary leader in the counseling profession but a gifted teacher, humanistic therapist and an existential prophet in a troubled and uncertain world. Barry was recognized as a creative advocate for improving counseling and counselor preparation. He was a national leader and expert in community mental health, school counseling, family counseling, addictions counseling and counseling licensure. Among his many accomplishments, he “reinvented” comprehensive school counseling programs across New Jersey and the country and coauthored the first school counselor evaluation model accepted by the state of New Jersey to evaluate school counselors as counselors and not as teachers.
For several years, Barry worked steadfastly to lobby for New Jersey counselor licensure with Ed Stroh and Nancymarie Bride. He negotiated the eleventh-hour compromise to gain the votes needed to pass the licensure law. Barry served on the New Jersey [counselor] licensure board for ten years and as chair for seven years, where he strengthened counselor identity and practice. He brought ACA and the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB) together, initiating the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling project.
He was an extraordinary facilitator and diplomat, and with his soft-spoken style and self-deprecating humor, he could bring diverse stakeholders together to listen to each other and come to consensus.
Mascari, a licensed professional counselor and ACA Fellow, was co-author with his wife, Jane M. Webber, of the book Disaster Mental Health Counseling: A Guide to Preparing and Responding, published by the ACA Foundation.
Barry’s professionalism and leadership were unparalleled. He advanced family mediation, created model student assistance programs in schools, and in recent years, advocated for counselors to be trauma-centric, not just trauma-aware. As chairman of Kean University’s counselor education program, Barry loved advising graduate students and continued mentoring counselors long after they graduated.
He was a popular presenter at ACA and New Jersey Counseling Association (NJCA) conferences. Even in a packed auditorium, participants felt personally connected to Barry; his enthusiasm, passion and humor energized students and counselors. He modeled professional behavior and was the best dressed professor at Kean who enjoyed sharing his shopping secrets for bargain hunting. Students looked forward to seeing a unique, perfectly-matched tie and jacket every class, and he raised the bar for professionalism.
Barry was a prophet, and his vision of counseling was years ahead of the profession. He continuously advocated for professional unity, inclusion and access to training and services.
Barry proudly shared his humble first generation roots in Paterson, New Jersey. He was a counselor with a mission to improve the world, one counseling student at a time. He loved our diverse Kean students; and each semester, Barry explained to his new students that at Kean, “we do not teach social advocacy, we are social advocacy!” Although he could teach any course in the program, Barry chose to teach the orientation to counseling course and developed a personal relationship with every new student in the program.
Barry continuously showed us how to live in the present and to accept others unconditionally. He truly liked us just the way we are. Barry was the counselor’s Mr. Rogers and his “neighborhood” was the counselor education program, as well as the Kean campus, where students, grads, faculty and staff looked forward to seeing him every day. In the afternoon before our evening classes started, he donned his Starbucks apron and made espresso and cappuccino. Barry and Bobby Kitzinger were baristas at Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) events, faculty birthdays and family celebrations. Just before classes started, Barry walked through the halls, greeting students and faculty and pausing to chat. He was affectionately known as the “mayor” of Kean.
Barry’s neighborhood extended beyond the boundaries of Kean into the world, and he was delighted to get to know everyone. He greeted every employee by name at the Shoprite grocery store, as well as all the shops and restaurants he frequented in Bernardsville—and he knew the names of their children, their career dreams, and how he was going to connect them in some way to Kean. New faculty—especially those with no family nearby—had a special place at our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Barry welcomed everyone as family and he loved cooking huge family meals.
Barry cherished our stories and our dreams. When someone needed to talk, Barry was always ready to listen. He even had office hours after his late night classes, rarely leaving before midnight. He nurtured Kean’s counseling education faculty and student family, and they cherished the Kean family as a place that sustained them through difficult times during the program and after graduation. After a fire destroyed a student’s home, Barry made sure they had a Christmas tree and decorations for the holiday. In a program of more than 300 students, he quietly marshaled support for homeless students so they could remain in classes, provided survivors of violence with resources and remained connected with students who experienced illness or loss in their family.
Barry delighted in bringing new faculty to teach in our program. For several years, each time we met Chris Moll at ACA and Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) conferences, he reminded Chris that there was a place at Kean when she was ready to return to New Jersey. Chris was a Jersey girl and after retiring, Chris moved to the Jersey shore and joined the Kean faculty. When I [Jane M. Webber, Mascari’s spouse] joined the Kean counselor education program, university President Dawood Farahi joked that he got the two great counseling professors for the price of one and it seemed that way. We were family—at home and at Kean.
Barry built many interpersonal bridges in the counseling profession, and his presence united and moved people forward. He naturally rose to positions of leadership and influence in the NJCA, New Jersey Mental Health Counseling Association, New Jersey Professional Counselor Examiners Committee, AASCB, the CACREP Board, the 20/20 project, the school community in Clifton where he was director of counseling and student services and the Kean Senate. Kean Vice President Suzanne Bousquet described Barry as a “national treasure.” He was a charismatic leader, but Barry was also deeply humble, knowing when it was time to step down and pass the gavel to new leadership. He remained a mentor and muse to graduates and colleagues.
The only person more important to Barry than his students was his mother, Doris. Barry rushed out of the office, waving goodbye to the line of students, leaping down the stairs two at a time to take Doris to the doctor or to the dollar store and bring her to Bernardsville for the weekend. Last December, he orchestrated her 100th birthday celebration and was the master of ceremonies. Barry was a loyal Yankees fan and watched every Yankee game with Doris. He showed us that life can be exciting and exhilarating even as we sat through nine—or sometimes 16—innings. Family included the Yankees.
An only child, Barry loved his many relatives. He grew up next door to his aunt and 11 cousins, so family events were large and held in fire department halls. He never missed a Mascari or Shortways family celebration or a Kean event. Kean was his second family, and Barry was proud to have his cousins at Kean, Kendahl Shortway in Psychology, and Jackie Pecora, a graduate of the MA in counseling program, as well as his son Matt who received his MBA at Kean.
Barry embraced my children, Julia and Chris, with his children Matt and Janine, into our blended family. Our most important conversations and family times were in the kitchen cooking together. When Matt’s foster dog, Pip, joined our family, the pooch was frightened and defensive. Barry quickly earned his trust and they both experienced unconditional canine love. Pip would squeeze himself into Barry’s chair as he responded to emails, pushing the laptop away with his nose to ensure Barry’s undivided attention.
Barry took delight in finding his Italian roots in Sicily, although I had to pull him away from the office to take a vacation. He befriended Dominic, the town archivist in Termini Imerese, and together they researched records for hours to find his family roots and his great grandfather’s birthplace, a narrow row house on Mascari Alley.
Barry brought humor, joy and playfulness to our Kean family. When we saw that sparkle in his eyes, we knew he had a surprise planned or he had volunteered us for yet another job or conference to promote counseling. I converted his skepticism about sand tray therapy, and he became a believer in its therapeutic power. Hence, every student in his classes experienced the sand tray. Barry practiced and preached fitness and healthy food and had earned a second degree black belt. He taught students the importance of breathing and could slowly exhale longer than anyone until an opera singer took his class! In his orientation to counseling class, Barry shared Harold Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which almost seemed a foreshadowing for him this year.
Then COVID-19 came, invisible and devastating. There was no reason or explanation for this existential nightmare. COVID-19 isolated us when we desperately needed to be close to Barry. It denied us the healing and comfort of his presence and touch.
Working as a cardiac ICU nursing supervisor, Matt was able to be with his father a few minutes each day and FaceTimed us, which helped soften the searing isolation from Barry. I could not visit him or hold his hand, and I hoped he could hear me. It was incomprehensible that Barry, who loved family so much was isolated in the ICU, but the nurses and medical staff became his fourth family.
When he finally awakened after several weeks, although he was unable to talk, Barry joked with the nurses, mouthed words to ask for yogurt and he silently said “I love you” to me on FaceTime. Barry fought this terrible virus—and he almost beat it.
I have been so blessed to be Barry’s best friend, spouse, soulmate and professional partner. We were two individuals who became one presence, finishing each other’s sentences, hearing each other’s thoughts and planning for retirement together. Barry’s presence and his relationships profoundly touched the lives of everyone he met. Marty Shulman at Kean called him a “true mensch.” Barry was an extraordinary therapist, speaker, teacher, artist, chef, barista, Zen practitioner and existentialist philosopher.
Once, before a large CSI event started, Barry was standing quietly for several minutes in front of 100 unoccupied chairs with no one in the room yet, looking very serious. Our grad assistant, George Askins, asked Barry what he was doing. Smiling, he replied, “Giving a lecture on existentialism!”
We have been forever transformed by his love, hope and compassion. I am grateful to Rebecca Vicente for helping me understand that although his body is no longer here, Barry will continue to wrap his heart and soul around us.
Barry’s words best explain his teaching philosophy (from his Kean faculty page):
I may have expertise but am not THE expert in everything as some of my students know more about certain areas than I. So we are a community of learners, as this process is never done. Learning is best accomplished through an empathic, nurturing and patient environment that recognizes the complexities of being human. I remind students it's not where you start, it's where you finish as counselor preparation is a journey that we are on together.