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Obituary: Richard T. Knowles / Retired psychology professor at Duquesne

Thursday, April 24, 2003

By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Richard T. Knowles, a retired professor of psychology at Duquesne University and author of numerous books and articles on moral education and counseling, died Tuesday of complications from a stroke that he suffered on Feb. 14. He was 68.

While at Duquesne, Mr. Knowles participated in the Moral Education Project, an international endeavor by philosophers, psychologists and educators to find common themes in the moral education of children around the world.

He also took an interest in spirituality, culture and education. His interdisciplinary interests led him from the University of Michigan to Duquesne in 1973, said Anthony Barton, a Duquesne psychology professor.

"He saw that Duquesne took a more human approach to psychology, that it recognized that humans were more than just monkeys or machines," Barton said. "He was already a tenured professor at Michigan, so he gave up what amounted to a more secure, better- paying position out of idealism."

Mr. Knowles was chair of the psychology department from 1985 to 1997 and retired in 2000.

Colleagues said his Irish background -- he was born in New York City to native Irish parents -- made him a passionate leader with a strong sense of right and wrong.

"He was willing to be cantankerous and make a stink if need be," said Barton, who once accompanied Mr. Knowles to a local Irish bar and heard him sing all the words to the Irish songs. "He was not a bland, bureaucratic, official man."

Mr. Knowles also had a part-time private practice in psychotherapy.

"People who went to him with their problems knew he was 100 percent with them," said the Rev. Adrian Van Kaam, a former Duquesne psychology professor.

Mr. Knowles finished high school at age 15 and earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's degree in education from Fordham University. In 1964 he earned a Ph.D. in guidance and counseling from Purdue University.

His first professional experiences were as a counseling psychologist. He helped set up the first public school in a United States prison -- a school for adolescents jailed in Rikers Island Prison in New York City.

"He felt they still had an opportunity to improve their lives," said daughter Jeanne Crelli of Greenfield. "He cared about their futures and felt he could make an impact through education."

In 1963 he became a professor of counseling at Ball State University and moved to the University of Michigan in 1965. A devout Catholic, he once considered the priesthood and thought of entering the Peace Corps.

In addition to Crelli, Mr. Knowles is survived by daughters Catherine Knowles and Julia Knowles, both of Murrysville; sons Richard Knowles III of Hazelwood and Michael Knowles of San Francisco; former wife Muriel Rogers of San Francisco; brother John Knowles of Sarasota, Fla.; mother Johanna Knowles of New York City; and four grandchildren.

Visitation will take place from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today in the John T. Hart Funeral Home, 3103 Lillian Ave., Murrysville. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Mother of Sorrows Church, 4200 Old William Penn Highway, Murrysville.

Caroline Abels can be reached at cabels@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2614.

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