Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Chauncey Alexander, Social Work Architect

A brilliant voice has left our land
A gentle voice with a strong firm hand
A caring voice with a heart of knowledge
A voice at home; a voice at college
A voice for social unity
A warm voice of community
A voice of love and understanding
A voice that compelled without demanding
A voice for Justice has been stilled
With deep echoes, our hearts are filled
Rest that voice in Peace our friend
Until we hear your voice again

Chauncey Alexander, often called the Master Builder of social work, died on August 30, 2005 at the Orange County Memorial Hospital in Fountain Valley. Chauncey is survived by his wife Sally. Between them, they have four daughters, eight grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. Chauncey?s son, Gregory, a Vietnam veteran, died in 1997 of an aneurysm.

Chauncey graduated from UCLA in 1938 with a BA in Psychology and earned his Masters Degree in Social Work from USC nineteen years later after building on practical experiences at home in the United States and away at war in the Pacific campaign. In a way, that was metaphor for Chauncey in being able to bridge between rivals to voice wisdom and workable understandings. He chose to integrate two rival schools in his life and then offered the melding as the fabric for active social work for a long and distinguished career.

Chauncey entered his public life at a time of dramatic world political and social upheaval. He volunteered for service in World War II and was initially rejected due to poor eyesight. He was rejected six more times and was finally accepted to assist in determining the suitability of volunteers and draftees to be in the Army. Subsequent service eventually brought him to the Philippines and when the war ended, he prevailed on the military to send soldiers home on ships returning to the United States empty.

While waiting for the slow wheels of the national bureaucracy to turn, Chauncey organized the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians for the CIO in the Los Angeles area. He also negotiated their contract with Lockheed Aviation. This organizing activity was looked upon as an essential voice for workers and yet somehow subversive at a time of turmoil in labor. While Chauncey always chose to help people and to use his considerable powers of persuasion to act in their behalf, that very trait was viewed suspiciously by some who could not understand a man who had the common good at heart. While some wondered about Chauncey?s motives and whispered about his loyalties, he gathered prolific experience and skill as a social worker. His military experience got him a civilian job as Research and Publications Director for the Veterans Service Center in Los Angeles. There he developed many useful materials including a compendium of all veteran?s benefits in each of the 48 states. Knowledge always served as a basis for helping others and he was generous with his time and energy in sharing the knowledge his experiences provided.

As Executive Director of the Southern California Society for Mental Hygiene, he staged mental health and education events and organized eleven chapters of the Society. It was at about that time that Chauncey uncovered severe shortcomings in the California mental health system that had used the system for political purposes and was able to influence the then governor Earl Warren, and later Supreme Court Justice, to obtain the resignation of the offending political appointee. It was largely through the efforts of Chauncey and his colleagues that the position was thereafter filled by a qualified psychiatrist who developed a progressive and effective mental health system.

Not all his California efforts were as well received by politicians, however. After working as a psychiatric social worker in California?s Patton State Mental Hospital and developing community based programs for patients that were harmless to themselves and others and placing 40 patients in appropriate boarding houses, the program was eliminated by Governor Reagan and most mentally ill patients were simply dumped on the streets of unprepared communities in the state.

Although Chauncey held a number of impressive positions, his longest tenure was as the National Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers in New York and later in Washington, DC. He served as the active leader and motivating force in building the profession of Social Work. He also created ELAN, the Educational Legislative Action Network and was supported by several legislators who were generous in their praise for the support provided by social workers in their districts.

Because of his research with Dr. Sydney S. Sobin to find ways to put heart patients back to work, Chauncey was selected as Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Heart Association. He served in that position for twelve years and developed the group into the largest income and program producing similar organization in the country. It involved 65,000 volunteers in public and professional education, community service and fundraising programs.

In his retirement, Chauncey taught social policy and management as a part-time professor at California State University, Long Beach. Even there, he was often found researching and preparing materials for his students rather than resting on his experience and memory. He was not only current, but took the time and exerted the effort to be ahead of trends and changes. He also organized the Health Care Council of Orange County, a non-profit organization that provided an important voice for older adults and persons with disabilities. The group, in corroboration with the Orange County Council on Aging emphasizes assistance to Chinese, Vietnamese and Hispanic groups.

Chauncey Alexander lived as a voice for the exploited, the misunderstood and for the disabled and disenfranchised of our community. He did his homework and fought the good fight despite personal physical pain and suffering and even the loss of a son who had also served the country they loved. His wife Sally remained steadfast in her love for 38 years of marriage. She shared his love of justice and the disenfranchised. Sally ran for Congress in 1996 to articulate ways to help the citizens of her community and to help lead them to a greater good much as her beloved husband had although in her unique and more political way. She served in many leadership roles for the California Democratic Party and yet was always at Chauncey?s side right to the very end when as delegates to the California State Party convention, they joined their many friends at Los Angeles.


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