Gordon Mackenzie Harrington

Psychology Faculty

    Gordon Harrington Gordon Mackenzie Harrington, 90, of Waterloo died of natural causes on December 31, 2015. He was born on April 12, 1925 in Knoxville, Tennessee, son of Gordon and Margaret Shaw Harrington. He spent his childhood and teen years living in Tennessee, Canada, and Georgia. An early marriage resulted in his three fine sons. Gordon married Judith Ellen Finkel in March 1966. Although their marriage ended in 1988, they remained good friends until his death. Gordon’s final marriage was to Dorothy “Dottie” Canty Forsberg in 2002. Completely devoted to each other, they traveled extensively through Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North American, and South America. Dottie died in 2014. He was a long-time member of the Cedar Valley Unitarian Universalist congregation. Survived by: two sons Dana (Fridley, Minnesota), and Marc (Eagle Harbor, Michigan and Cedar Falls, Iowa), one grandson, Joshua; a brother: Donald, and sister, Nancy (both of Canada); extended family: Bill and Becky Forsberg (Austin, Texas), their children and grandchildren; and Ted and Pam Forsberg (Tucson, Arizona). Preceded in death by: his parents and one son, Bruce. While serving in the U. S. Navy during World War II Gordon had a profound shift in his thinking about racism, which became the foundation for the rest of his personal and professional life. Once discharged from the Navy, he returned to Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. While teaching mathematics at GIT in 1946 following his graduation, his search for enlightenment brought him to a friendship with a young African-American professor at Morehouse University, Atlanta. Gordon attended the professor’s seminar on race relations.  As the friendship grew, he and the professor, and their wives attended an event in Atlanta, then rode a bus together back to the Harringtons for dinner--not in the back of the bus but together in the front. Gordon had his first glimpse of what it was like to be discriminated against; his memory of the bus driver’s reaction remained clear to the end of his life. As Gordon’s passion to address racism became better known to that professor, he dissuaded Gordon from considering a graduate degree in mathematics. Rather, he was persuaded to study ministry at Yale, as the friend believed that the great hope for changing southern white views of racism lay in the church.  By that time, Gordon had been attending an historic Unitarian Universalist (UU) church in Atlanta, although nationally there were few such faith-merged churches. When applying to Yale Divinity School and told to designate whether he was Unitarian or Universalist, he was unable to select one or the other, as he had known only the combined faith. While a student at Yale, he was asked to become minister at the New London (Connecticut) UU church. Continuing as a student at the Divinity School while serving as the New London minister, he became a licensed Universalist minister in 1948. His major professor at Yale then encouraged Gordon to shift from religion to Child Development in the Departments of Education, Psychology, and Child Psychiatry, where he earned a Ph. D. in Child Development. His career path began as a research consultant for the State of Connecticut Board of Regents for five years, then into academia first in Ohio, then Coe College (Cedar Rapids), and eventually in 1963 to the State College of Iowa (which became UNI) as a professor of research, child development, and statistics in the Department of Psychology for the rest of his career, retiring in the early 1990s. With Gordon’s total professional commitment remaining on race relations, he pondered how racial views and religious views develop, and what the individual differences are in such development. He came to the view that race could not be defined genetically; rather, it was a social phenomenon. This was cutting edge thinking at the time; and the importance of his research findings was recognized by an article in the distinguished international journal Nature in December 1975. Gordon continued research in areas of intelligence and genetic interactions throughout the rest of his career. At the time when UNI found it necessary to close his laboratory in the 1980s, he was in the process of studying the possibilities of electrical high power line fields on human behavior; a study with Occupational Safety and Health Administration on possible genetic interactions with employee shifts; and studies of genetic interactions with psychiatric drugs. Throughout his career he published many research articles and presented at national and international conferences. Gordon’s volunteer activities included being elected chair of the first Cedar Falls Human Rights Commission in 1974, remaining in that role until 1983. At the time of his departure, he received a Distinguished Service Award from the city of Cedar Falls, and an Exemplary Service Award from the Regional Council of Civil Rights Agencies. In addition to local contributions, he joined the national and State of Iowa Civil Rights Unions and was Treasurer of the State organization for the maximum term of six years. During those years, he was involved in the establishment of the Iowa Civil Liberties Foundation. As an active member of the local UU congregation (now Cedar Valley UU), he became an early Chair of the Board of Trustees and remained active on many committees for decades. His extraordinary service to Unitarian Universalism was recognized by the Prairie Star UU Region Unsung UU Award in 2010. He was known for his love of chatting with others and telling stories about his life. His colleague and special friend was January Harrison, and he was grateful for care provided by Adrian Miller. Memorials: In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Cedar Valley Unitarian Universalists, 3912 Cedar Heights Drive, Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613, for a social action cause; the Cedar Bend Humane Society; or to a charity of your choice. A memorial service will occur at a later time. Cemetery: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Copyright Waterloo Courier on-line edition; downloaded January 10, 2016.