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Enough to Go all Around: Morton Teicher, 1920-2017.

When Mort Teicher and I were sharing the leadership of the Thomas Wolfe Society, he as president for four years and I as vice president between 1988 and 1991, a tradition was shattered. I saw the evidence in the trunk of his rented car in May 1992, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

He and I met there to officiate the Society's 1992 annual meeting. Mort opened the back of a green Buick and showed me that our black plaster statuette of Wolfe had been crushed as he was transporting it by air from Miami to the Carolina Inn. He passed the fragments on to me anyway--more than a hundred of them--for it had become customary to transfer this figurine of our literary idol from Society president to president. Azalee Sain, a librarian and, like Mort, a founder of the TWS in the late 1970s, had acquired this statuette and set this tradition in motion. A Society president who came after me, I understand, secured and then passed on a different statuette of Wolfe.

What's left of the original one, Thomas Wolfe's head and broad shoulders, lies on the hearth of my home here in Raleigh today. The tip of his noble nose is missing. Originally there were almost enough pieces of the literary giant to cover my hearth, but I have given all except this remaining piece to students. What remains now reminds me of dear Morton I. Teicher, of whom there were so many parts, enough to go all around.

Mort's active and productive life closed 13 June 2017, at age 97. His son and daughter were with him. Their mother, Mickey, Mort's wife of almost sixty years, had been a historian of Jewish art and a museum director. She died in 1991. Mort, a native of the Bronx, studied sociology at the tuition-free City College of New York and chose social work as his career path. He earned an MSW at the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. Having been introduced to anthropology as an undergraduate, Mort completed his doctorate in that field at the University of Toronto in 1956. The University of Washington Press published his dissertation, a much-cited study of "windigo psychosis," a cannibal disorder among some North American indigenous people.

During World War II, Mort had served in US Army hospitals as a psychiatric social worker and clinical psychologist for four years, three of them in the China-Burma-India theater. This experience became the basis in 1946 of the first of his more than one hundred professional articles. After being discharged, he worked for the Veterans Administration as the Chief Social Worker for New England. Next he and Mickey moved to Toronto for his new position as assistant professor and clinical teacher at the university where he later received his PhD.

That same year of 1956 Mort assumed his first of several positions as a social work dean, beginning at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University. During his fifteenyear tenure in that New York City job, he took leave for two years to start a school of social work in North Rhodesia--now Zambia--and a similar school at Bar Ilan University in Israel. Later he spent six months as a visiting professor in Jerusalem. In 1972 Mort and Mickey moved to Chapel Hill when he was appointed dean of the University of North Carolina School of Social Work. He retired from that position in 1985, and they moved to Miami.

At each stage of his career Mort Teicher exemplified the blessings of great mental and spiritual acuity in his broad concern for the welfare of humanity. There was enough of him to go all around. The Thomas Wolfe Society, in recognition of his four years of service as its president and his published articles about Wolfe, bestowed its Citation of Merit in 1992. The next year his Looking Homeward: A Thomas Wolfe Photo Album appeared.

The accidental shattering of the Society's first statuette of Wolfe was not typical of Mort's astute watchfulness. It must be said, however, that the demise of that statuette was not the only TWS tradition he nixed. No one else has served two consecutive two-year terms as president. In this departure from established rules--Mort was a stickler for rules--President Teicher was a man with a plan. He wanted to lead a Thomas Wolfe tour of London and other parts of the UK. As TWS president he thought he could more easily succeed, but that tour never happened. This failure simply proves that Mort Teicher was human after all.

James W. Clark Jr., retired since 2006, is an active independent scholar. He was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2018.
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Author:Clark, James W., Jr.
Publication:Thomas Wolfe Review
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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