PERSONALITY & SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Tom Ostrom was well known for a variety of his scholarly contributions to the field of attitude measurement and as one of the pioneers in recognizing the potential in forging connections between social and cognitive psychology. His early efforts, along with other luminaries in the field including Dave Hamilton, Bob Wyer, Don Carlston, Reid Hastie, and Ebbe Ebbeson were central to the emergence of the field of social cognition. His approach was innovative and his impact important and enduring. As important as these scholarly efforts were, one of Tom’s most enduring legacies and gifts to field was his dogged determination to creating a sense of community among scholars. He did this effectively in did this along with Tony Greenwald, Tim Brock, Bibb Latane and Gifford Weary in building the graduate program at OSU. For many of those who attended the storied OSU program, Tom is fondly remembered as the glue that held the program together and as the one who helped to maintain connections across generations of students through creating the still running annual OSU Greek Night Dinner at the Midwestern Psychological Association meeting.
Tom’s commitment to community extended to the broader professional community as well. Tom facilitated connections and collaborations with a wide range of international scholars. He was routinely attentive to and supportive of the development of junior colleagues whether it was though his journal editing activities or invitations to participate in both formal and informal professional gatherings. In the early years of social cognition, Tom recognized the importance of gathering scholars together to share their novel insights and new empirical findings and out of these efforts were born the social cognition week at the Nags Head Conference Center (which is now the annual meeting in Duck, North Carolina) and annual Person Memory Meeting held prior to the meeting of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Tom’s thumbprint on the Person Memory meeting is unmistakable. The meeting involves scientific presentations from senior and junior scholars and was set up to ensure that there would be plenty of time for informal discussion to occur – the central goals of which was continued dialogue about the science and the development of relationships and friendships. Often these connections have led to collaborations and have ensured that Tom’s understanding of the importance of community is shared across new generations of scholars.
Though Tom left this world all too soon, his enduring scientific legacy and his commitment to community is celebrated each year in an award given in Tom’s name at the annual Person Memory meeting: The Thomas M. Ostrom Award for Outstanding Contributions to Social Cognition. The award in his name would please Tom but what would be most important to him is the way in which the meetings he helped to create endure and provide the opportunity for informal discussions of ideas combined with relaxation, laughter, and camaraderie.
Lee Becker, my advisor at the University of Missouri, was one of Tom's doctoral students. I met Tom in the summer of 1971 when he stopped by to visit Lee. I was just an ignorant second-year grad student, but, as soon as we met, Tom added me to his large and ever-growing flock, and my life has never been the same. I miss him.
One of Tom's most enduring contributions was his generous and intentional work of forming and nurturing the community of social cognition researchers, especially through the Person Memory Interest Group, which remains vibrant and successful to this day, nearly two decades after Tom's death.
He was a wonderful colleague--opinionated but open-minded, relaxed but full of energy, focused but wide ranging in his interests.
When I first arrived at OSU in 1990, Tom was my primary colleague, sounding board, and mentor. Of course he was incredibly intimidating, but he was also one of the most delightful and supportive people I’ve ever met. I’ll never forget the moustachioed grin behind the bottle of aquavit, the notorious blend of butane and grain alcohol that he purveyed at every party, or his eagerness to discuss complex methods and results at these same parties well past the point when most people were coherent or cared. I’ll also never forget the party we held for Tom a few days before he passed away. He knew his time was just about over, but nonetheless he kept prodding all his guests to try Handke’s oysters, noting that they were as good as they get. His delight in the pleasures of others so near his own end was extraordinary, and revealed the teddy bear that many of us had always known was just below the surface. I miss him very much.
Bill von Hippel
I worked with Tom Ostrom as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the late 1970s and as a collaborator for many years afterwards. Throughout the time I worked with him and up to his untimely death, I felt that Tom Ostrom was my mentor and my friend. He cared about my career and about me as a person. He intellectually challenged me to be a better scholar while sharing his thoughts and feelings about a variety of life's concerns with me. To Tom, the enterprise of social psychology was both a scientific discipline and an opportunity to meet and befriend some interesting people. Tom brought unbridled enthusiasm to both his academic and social pursuits. He legacy includes both some important and original contributions to social psychology and large cadre of people who feel fortunate to have known him.
Tom was a hugely influential force during my early years at OSU. When I joined that faculty, he was tremendously generous with his time: reading my papers, talking with me about research ideas, encouraging me to read relevant work, and nurturing my scholarship. My ability to publish in psychology journals is importantly attributable to his tutoring. And Tom was importantly responsible for creating a wonderful atmosphere in the social psychology program at Ohio State - his figurative warm embrace of all the students and faculty and staff, whether at a hot tub party or an area colloquium, created the sense that we were members of a big family, everyone looking out for everyone else's best interests and celebrating everyone's accomplishments and learning from each other. He did the same for the community of social cognition researchers world-wide. Tom inspired me with his tremendously high standards for scholarship and his deep thought about psychological science from a big-picture perspective and his powerful loyalties to OSU and social psychology. It probably didn't hurt that he and I shared a passion for playing music, too. I still miss him and smile every time I cite his work.
I didn't have the good fortune of working with Tom, but when I was a new Assistant Professor at meetings looking for anyone who would talk to me, Tom was always kind and inviting. He laughed easily and opened my mind to lots of new things, like research I hadn't known about or exotic foods. For me, Tom was an adventurous and friendly spirit wrapped in a gentle soul.
When I think of Tom, the strongest word association is "passion." Passion shows itself in many ways. Usually, when a person is passionate about something, there is a seriousness. Passionate people often grit their teeth. Tom was passionate with a smile. He believed strongly in what he believed, but he would not be mean about it or try to diminish someone else. For example, in writing about and arguing for "the sovereignty of social cognition", Tom was totally passionate; but he always had that twinkle in his eye when discussing the issue. I can think of other instances of Tom's great passion. There were those late night games of hearts, where he delighted in yelling "Smoke the bitch out." There were those all-nighters that he and I (and sometimes others) would spend in deep discussion of philosophical or psychological issues. And at sunrise, we would adjourn to another of his passions -- an egg McMuffin at McDonald's. His tastes in food always eluded me. It was either a first-rate restaurant or McDonald's, nothing in between. Then there was his passion for Aquavit. Nasty stuff. There is probably no other person for whom I would have actually agreed to drink that stuff. And everyone did. Most of all, aside from his empirical and theoretical contributions (which were many and important), perhaps Tom's greatest contribution was his support of students and young faculty. He treated everyone, at all levels, with the utmost attention and respect. He nurtured young psychologists. The "Person Memory" Group had been a small, elite collection of folks. Tom, to the dismay of some of the others, succeeded in opening up the meetings to include young faculty and graduate students. That model is still in place, and the meetings (which are still held according to Tom's vision) have produced innumerable, successful collaborations. Tom Ostrom: Clearly a Wall of Famer.
I have many fond memories of Tom, from both sides of the Atlantic. In the late 1970’s, Tom was a visiting professor in the SFB24, an interdisciplinary decision research center at the University of Mannheim, Germany, while I was a graduate student there. He combined a relaxed, low-key style with an intense interest in psychological research and considerable patience in talking with me about my half-baked ideas. It was as pleasant as educational and involved many conversations that lasted late into the night – as long as you didn’t want to meet before noon, Tom was always available. He kept up that habit and late nights were a mainstay of any visit with Tom at OSU. His scientific insights and professional wisdom were invaluable. Two decades after his untimely death he is as sorely missed as fondly remembered.
Further Donations are always welcome, whether to honor Tom Ostrom or another psychologist. Be sure to leave a note regarding which mentor you would like to donate for and any testimonial you might like to give.
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