Jim Callahan, beloved Heller professor, dead at 74

He bridged the worlds of research and practice throughout an illustrious career

Jim Callahan receives the Alumni Service Award from Heller Dean Lisa Lynch

James J. Callahan Ph.D.’68, a distinguished Brandeis researcher and widely admired administrator of Massachusetts mental health and elderly services, died October 12 after being struck by an MBTA commuter train at the West Newton station.

Callahan was a member of the faculty of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management for 25 years, and was a key member of the cabinet of Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. At the state level, he served as secretary of elder affairs, commissioner of mental health and director of the Medicaid program. At Heller, he was at various times director of the Policy Center on Aging, director of the National Institute of Mental Health training program, head of the Ph.D. program and a senior researcher. He was acting dean of Heller from 1990-92.

Despite Callahan’s recent retirement, he was regularly seen around Heller, attending lectures and participating in committee work. At the school’s 50th anniversary in 2009, Dean Lisa Lynch presented him the Alumni Service Award for his loyalty, devotion and tireless work. Surprised but pleased, Callahan accepted the award to a standing ovation from 500 colleagues and former students.

“If there’s one person who embodied the heart and soul of Heller, it was Jim Callahan,” said Stuart Altman, longtime dean of the school and Sol C. Chaikin Professor of National Health Policy. “He embodied the best of what we do.”

Callahan was an early Heller Ph.D. and “a real workhorse of the university in a variety of ways,” Altman said, recalling that Callahan “helped recruit me to the deanship” in the 1970s.

Lynch said that “Jim Callahan was the emeritus professor of every dean's dreams. He once said, ‘While no good deed may go unpunished, good deeds have a way of multiplying their effect leading to more good deeds and value added to the community.’  Jim was this good deed for the Heller school day after day even into his retirement.

“He also had a wicked sense of humor,” Lynch said. “In the springtime he would come to my office with flowers from his garden -- bleeding hearts -- what he called the official flower of the Heller School. Today our hearts are certainly bleeding with the loss of this special man who was never deterred in his career from facing formidable problems and challenges.”

Altman said that every time Callahan finished a stint in state government “we brought him back to Heller for bigger and bigger responsibilities.” In addition to heading the aging and Ph.D. programs, he taught key classes and was loved by the students.

“He was compassionate but tough,” Altman said. “He would push them along, and he would make sure they finished.”

Callahan received innumerable honors for his contributions to the fields of aging, health, social policy and public administration, including a Hall of Fame Award from the American Society on Aging, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Captain's Chair for national program leadership.

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