Mark Pope, the 52nd president of the American Counseling Association (2003-2004), died at his home Jan. 29, 2023. He was 70.
In his own words, Pope grew up as a “poor, gay, Cherokee boy,” but he went on to become one of the earliest and most prominent voices addressing cultural diversity issues in the field of career counseling and development. He owned a career counseling and consulting firm for 15 years before transitioning into academia. Then, he served as a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Family Therapy at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, eventually becoming a professor emeritus.
Pope graduated with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri and earned his doctorate in counseling and educational psychology from the University of San Francisco. As an undergrad, he was the legislative vice president of the school’s student government association, where he successfully coordinated the lobbying of state officials to give 18-year-olds the right to vote during the Vietnam War.
He was a “champion for the marginalized and oppressed,” says David Kaplan, who immediately preceded Pope as ACA president. “One of the things I loved about him was that he really cared about people. He especially cared about marginalized people.”
Throughout his career, two of Pope’s main focuses were the LGBTQ+ community and the Native American community, both of which he was a part. He specialized in career development for marginalized groups, particularly the LGBTQ+ community.
“I really admired his humanity,” says Jane Goodman, professor emeritus at Oakland University and past president of ACA. “He was a person who was present when he was with you. He was extremely bright and extremely accomplished and very capable, but what stands out for me as his friend was his humanity.”
Pope was also proud of his Native American identity. He was an elder of the St. Francis River Band of Cherokees, and he served as the director of psychological services for the American Indian AIDS Institute and the Native American AIDS Project in San Francisco.
Pope was the first openly gay person to hold the position of ACA president. Kaplan, the former chief professional officer at ACA, remembers the courage it took at the time for Pope to stand up as president at the ACA Conference in front of thousands of ACA members and say “I love you” to Mario, who would be his future husband. “That gave a wonderful message to both the counseling community and our clients that we are accepting of diverse populations,” Kaplan says.
Goodman recalls when she had a friend who was struggling with their identity and Pope immediately offered to sit down and talk with them. “It was someone he didn’t know. It was someone I knew, yet he did it anyway. That’s the way he was,” she says.
Pope held numerous leadership positions in the counseling profession, including as president of the National Career Development Association (NCDA) and the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (now the Society for Sexual, Affectional, Intersex, and Gender Expansive Identities). He was also a fellow of ACA, NCDA and three divisions of the American Psychological Association and served as the editor for The Career Development Quarterly.
Angela Schubert, an associate professor and director of online learning for the clinical counseling program at the Central Methodist University, was a former student of Pope’s during his time at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She says he was particularly well known for his love of his students and his love of a good gin martini. “He made sure we came together each year at ACA. With a martini in hand, Dr. Pope cultivated an inclusive, loving space for his students who attended the ACA Conference each year. As a result, we came to grow as one big family, spending each gathering catching up and celebrating academic and personal milestones,” recalls Schubert, a licensed professional counselor at Brightside Counseling Services in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
Pope had humorously allowed Schubert to call him her “academic papa” for the past 15 years. “He was a fatherly figure to many of his students. He was very much a sagely guide when it came to anything related [to] counseling and leadership in the field,” she fondly recalls.
Pope was also integral in helping Schubert co-found the Association of Counseling Sexology and Sexual Wellness (ACSSW), an organizational affiliate of ACA. Schubert is ACSSW’s immediate past president. “I couldn’t think of anyone better than Dr. Pope to be the trustee” of ACSSW, she says. “My entire training with him has been to understand ACA leadership, ... and ACSSW wouldn’t be here today without him.”
Deneen Pennington, executive director of NCDA, says Pope was known as the “grandparent of career counseling for the LGBT community.”
Pennington recalls meeting Pope for the first time in 1998 when he was NCDA president-elect. “He was a warm, welcoming professional who quickly became my friend,” she says. “Being raised in rural Pennsylvania, I hadn’t experienced much diversity during my early years, so I found Mark to be fascinating, not only in his intellect but also in his historical knowledge of NCDA and the caring commitment he possessed. He was a unique colleague and taught me a lot about the LGBTQ community.”
Among his other accomplishments, Pope served on ACA’s first Fellows Selection Committee. He also co-edited several ACA books, including the Experiential Activities for Teaching Multicultural Competence in Counseling; Casebook for Counseling Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons and Their Families; and Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling: A Sex Positive Approach.
“He was truly a wonderful mentor when it came to the book [Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling],” says Schubert, who served as co-editor with Pope. “He allowed me to move in the way I felt was right but was also there to guide me with the nuances of editing. [The book] survived. ... It survived the pandemic; it survived [my tenure]; it survived sickness.”
On April 1, the Handbook for Human Sexuality Counseling will be featured during an ACA book author education session at the 2023 ACA Conference & Expo. Before Pope’s passing, he and Schubert requested the presence of the book’s contributing authors at this session. So, while Pope will not be there to present with Schubert, she will not be alone. Once again, Pope brought his people together.
And there will be an empty chair in Pope’s honor — complete with a martini glass, she adds.
“He was larger than life,” Kaplan says. “There are a lot of people that loved him. ... He got more hugs at the ACA conferences than any other [person] I know. Everybody just wanted to see him, be with him and love him.”
Pope is survived by his loving husband, Mario Carlos; his brothers; his nieces and nephew; and 14 grandnieces and grandnephews. A virtual celebration of his life was held on Feb. 12. In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations in his name can be made to the Lymphoma Research Foundation (Mantle Cell Lymphoma) or the American Cancer Society.