200 Gather To Remember Positive Psych Pioneer

Nearly 200 students, faculty, friends, and family members gathered in Memorial Church on Friday to celebrate the life of Professor of Psychology Philip J. Stone, who passed away earlier this year.

Stone made his mark on the Harvard community as the first professor of the popular course Psychology 1504 “Positive Psychology,” now taught by Tal D. Ben-Shahar ’96.

With 856 enrollees, “Positive Psych” is Harvard’s largest course this spring.

In his eulogy, a grateful Ben-Shahar described the tremendous impact that his “casually brilliant” mentor has had on him and countless other students.

Ben-Shahar spoke highly of Stone’s “strengths-based” approach to psychology, which constituted the subject matter of his courses and informed the way he approached his students.

“Phil sought to uncover those places where people felt most deeply active and alive,” he said.

Former student and current “Positive Psychology” teaching fellow Patricia Hernandez ’04 echoed Ben-Shahar’s sentiments.

Hernandez recalled how her first course with Stone changed her entire outlook on life at the College.

“He made me realize that by running, by hiding, by pushing...I wasn’t going to be a leader,” she said. “It’s all about acceptance, being authentic, having a vision, and going for it.”

Robert Manchin, CEO of the Gallup Organization, where Stone worked, praised Stone for the groundbreaking technological innovations that made him a well-known pioneer in the field. Manchin said that Stone’s work was very much driven by his love of people.

“Phil was focused on real people, real problems, real-life situations,” he said.

Throughout the service, a number of other audience members—including several students—came to the podium to share memories of Stone, relating how he had touched their lives and changed their perspectives.

At the beginning of his eulogy, the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer professor of Christian morals and minister in Memorial Church, made light of the occasional tension between those in the fields of religion and psychology.

He recalled asking Stone, “What do they do over there [in William James Hall]?”

Stone replied, “You don’t want to know.”

Following laughs from the audience, Gomes summed up the thoughts of the evening’s speakers.

“I valued the passions that he saw in others,” Gomes said, “for they reflected the passions that ran through his own life and his own career.”