Anthony P. Jurich, Professor Who Helped Suicidal Teens, Dies at 63

Kansas State U.

Anthony P. Jurich
November 21, 2010

On September 9, Anthony P. Jurich, a professor of marriage and family therapy at Kansas State University, gave his last speech at the Army post where he had volunteered for nearly four decades.

"Some people's lives end with a period," he told soldiers at Fort Riley. "That's it; they're gone. Some end with an exclamation point, when a person did things in life that easily gain the attention of others. Some people die with a comma, because their belief system says to them and others that they have moved on to something else.

"But a suicide—that person's life ends with a question mark."

A little over a month later, on October 13, Mr. Jurich died while vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He and his wife were dragged underwater by the undertow of a rogue wave that hit them as they walked on the beach, according to a university-issued e-mail. His wife was rescued, but efforts to revive him failed. He was 63 years old.

Colleagues and friends remember him as someone who devoted his life to helping troubled adolescents and preventing suicide.

His approach to family therapy involved listening to everyone so he could fully understand the family dynamic before suggesting a course of treatment.

"He had a way of reducing people's options so they had to change," says Candyce S. Russell, a professor of human development and family studies at Kansas State and Mr. Jurich's longtime colleague. And he did it, she says, with a "great deal of finesse and empathy."

Mr. Jurich was born and raised in the New York City area. As an undergraduate studying psychology at Fordham University, he began counseling newly arrested suspects and police officers who worked on domestic-violence cases.

Soon after he earned his doctorate at Pennsylvania State University in 1972, Mr. Jurich moved halfway across the country to take a full-time faculty position at Kansas State.

Though he had anticipated staying only a few years, Mr. Jurich spent his entire academic career there. He quickly established himself as a presence and became known as "the professor who sings in the halls." He received the university's "Outstanding Teacher Award" just four years into his career, was promoted to full professor by 1981, and was later recognized as an outstanding adviser for his work on the university's crisis hotline.

"His passion rubs off on people, whether it's students or other colleagues," says Sandra Stith, director of Kansas State's marriage and family therapy program. "If you ever felt lazy or self-focused, he always is the first to remind you of the importance of the work you're doing."

His service on the Faculty Senate and other committees earned him a reputation as a conflict mediator—one who was not afraid of confrontation but considered all sides fairly.

Mr. Jurich also held various leadership positions with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and served as its president in the late 90s.

In 2008, he published a book, Family Therapy With Suicidal Adolescents, on the pragmatic, problem-focused approach to therapy he favored even as other methods gained in popularity.

At the time of his death, Mr. Jurich was on the first year of a five-year voluntary phased retirement plan, but he was far from leaving the profession, his friends say, and he had plans to work with a local therapy group.

He also had no intention of giving up the front-row courtside Kansas State basketball tickets he held onto for nearly 40 years. Farrell J. Webb, an associate professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services, sat right next him for 16 of them. Mr. Webb says he'll miss Mr. Jurich not just as his basketball buddy but also as a friend who always knew the right thing to say.

"He had the rare gift to take complex and sensitive issues and put them in plain language," Mr. Webb says. "You knew he touched a lot of lives, because whether you were at a basketball game or a supermarket, at least three people always came up to talk to him."

Ms. Stith remembers that Mr. Jurich, who recruited her to Kansas State, "was always hopeful, seeing the possibilities and potentials in both his clients and his students. He has touched so many lives and taught so many students that it is impossible for his work to end with him."