Psychology professor, prolific writer and former all-American pro football player, Daniel Eckstein, aged 66, passed away on Saturday August 31, in Ashland, Oregon. The news shook the whole of the Saban community, as this man had touched the lives of many here, beyond the confines of his faculty position with Saba University School of Medicine (SUSOM).
The news reached Saba via local Douglas County newspapers, which quoted the sheriff’s office establishing that Eckstein was vacationing with relatives when he fell from a steep trail. His body was found at the bottom of a cliff near the North Umpqua River. Soon after, his brother Doug Eckstein contacted Daniel’s friends across this world to allow them to process the loss of his passing through sharing messages that celebrated his life and the light happiness he had brought in their lives. Doug explained that Daniel was visiting with relatives for his nephew’s wedding when the accident occurred.
During his almost four years on the island, Dr. Eckstein had served as Professor of Behavioural Sciences and Course Director of Medical Ethics at SUSOM. He had also served as the school’s counselling psychologist as well as President of the Faculty Senate in 2012. He was very active in the Saba community, volunteering at the Hon. Henry Every Old Age Home as well as being a psychologist at the A.M. Edwards Medical Center. At the request of the Saba Health Care Foundation, he had coordinated the medical school faculty presentations for a yearlong in-service training for the Saba Nurses. He had been a member of a Domestic Violence task force on Saba at the invitation of the local government, and had also completed a team-building, “Leadership by encouragement” as well as an “appreciative inquiry” workshop series for the local government. He had been a proud member of the Saba Lion’s Club, deeply involved in the life of the community.
In an e-mail correspondence with The Daily Herald correspondent in June, Dr. Eckstein explained that while he was leaving Saba, he planned to visit frequently and continue the work he had started. He wrote about being “most honoured and grateful” for his time on Saba, both for his opportunities at the Medical School and within the Saba community. He wrote how touched he was that the night before he left Saba, friends had thrown a surprise farewell celebration attended by most of the medical school teaching colleagues. “It was an emotional experience,” he wrote, first because of the parting gifts and secondly because one colleague “commented she had never known anyone with such great compassion.” Eckstein also wrote about his happiness when hearing from the Dean of Students about his being greatly missed and of their accounts of his work. He wrote of how touched he was that evening that “several faculty members wore the Hawaiian aloha shirts I had given them. It was a nice send off . Thanks so much for your cherished encouraging friendship during this transition.”
On Friday, September 6, SUSOM faculty, students and friends gathered on the medical university’s campus for a moment of silence. Many of them were wearing the Havaiian aloha shirts they had from him and all joined in singing “Over the Rainbow” – Eckstein’s favourite song. The gathering recalled the “aloha Fridays” Eckstein started during his tenure. Few could find the words to express their loss.
Eckstein was recruited and arrived on Saba together with Dr. Daniel Linton with whom he forged a tight camaraderie as they carried each other’s burden through all the initial challenges. They became best of friends spending much time together, said Dr. Linton. He added that “Dan enjoyed his life on Saba and admired the people and scenic beauty of the island. He felt honoured to be working at the medical school. He was an ex-football pro, who became known for his kindness and caring. He made life fun for others both in and out of the classroom and was subsequently much loved on Saba and elsewhere. He had a full and successful career and many publications to his credit. Th is great man will be missed.”
The extent of Eckstein’s healing work on the island remains only privately known by those in the community who benefited from his kind words and guidance. On a tiny island where confidentiality is difficult, he never breached it but took it as a privilege to serve individuals through the most sensitive times and issues in their lives. It is this very special role that made his departure so difficult to absorb.
He left Saba moving to Ashland, Oregon, where he had been a regular visitor for the last 25 years, participating in meditation sessions at the Foundation for Meditative Studies. There he stayed with his friend Janaki Kerr who nursed his recovery from a rotator cuff surgery this July. He visited his friends on Saba in early August looking well and in good spirits after news of having just been hired by Bastyr University in San Diego. Excited about this new chapter of his life and the new “dream job,” he told friends of having found a “perfect apartment one block from the beach.”
During his tenure on Saba, he published four articles in the Journal of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The topics included “The battered woman’s syndrome,” “Assessing potential childhood abuse for physicians,” “Reminiscent therapy with Senior Adults,” and “Intimate Partner violence.”
Eckstein practiced psychology for over 43 years and was the author of 21 books, including Leadership by Encouragement and Raising Respectful Kids in a Rude World. A visiting professor with the Adler Graduate Professional School in Toronto, he kept a quarterly “for couples” column in The Family Journal for the past 20 years. Last year, he was honoured by the Florida Adlerian Society with a lifetime achievement and social interest award that read, “In recognition and appreciation for being an encouraging leader with international influence.” Along with Dr. Pearnel Bell, he helped coordinate and conducted workshops and in-service training in Adlerian psychology on the island of Jamaica.
He had recently published a book titled The Couple’s Match Book: Activities for lighting, re-kindling or extinguishing the Flame. It received wonderful reviews in the Foreword Clarion Review. “I wept when I read this review,” wrote Dr. Eckstein about the remarks written by Sheila Trask. The professional recognition came at the personally sensitive time when he was preparing to leave Saba. With the book’s recognition came an exciting opportunity. As a result of the book’s reviews, he was informed that Meredith Vieira Production (MVP) was considering his book for a film and TV adaptation. The MVP is headed by Meredith Vieira, a popular TV personality in the United States. His discovery by a major player in the entertainment industry heralded a wonderful opportunity for him. His greatest masterpiece, however, never depended on being discovered through his books. It lives imprinted in the souls of those he touched through his work and left behind across this world.