The Life of L. George Buck
Raymond J. Lawrence, General Secretary
The news of the death of George Buck came to me today like the tolling of a bell signaling the end of an era.
George professed to have come partly from Native-American stock. I first met George in 1967 as I was beginning my training at St. Luke’s-Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. He was a recently minted Supervisor with the Council for Clinical Training. Through the years, he became a very dear friend whom I trusted explicitly. I had the pleasure of socializing with each of George’s wives and his two sons. If George was not my best and longest friend in the clinical pastoral movement, he was something very close to it.
George began his professional chaplaincy career at Berkshire Home for Boys in New York State. But most of his working years were spent as Director of Chaplains at Austin State Hospital in Texas. In his later years, he served on George Hull’s chaplaincy staff as a semi-retiree at the University Hospital of Arkansas in Little Rock. He took retirement several years ago and lived in a nursing home when he died on the night of May 11 at age 88.
George seems to have been the last of us to have had personal contact with Anton Boisen himself. He met Boisen at a meeting of the Council for Clinical Training in Chicago in the early 1960s, a couple of years before Boisen’s death. Even more significantly, George was perhaps the last of those who bore the idiosyncratic character of the original pastoral clinicians, who were first colorful characters and only then skilled professionals. If I dare say so, George compared favorably with the typical pasty white and anxiety-ridden chaplain who was a keeper of the rules in this generation.
In the early 1980’s George had a bout with alcohol addiction and lost his position at Austin State Hospital. In the early 1980s, I was invited by his wife to take part in an alcohol intervention conducted by George’s very competent Methodist Pastor, whose name has departed from my memory bank. The pastor proposed to loan George the total cost of a month’s treatment at the Hazleton Treatment Center in Minnesota. George first explained that he was not an alcoholic, that he only drank beer, which was largely true. But he drank it by the case. George’s defense caved in fairly quickly, and the next day he was on a plane to Hazelton. When he returned to regular life, the Methodist Church kept its promise and gave him a pastorate. To my knowledge, he never imbibed another mouthful of alcohol for the rest of his life, which was another four decades.
During his month of treatment in Hazleton, George received a registered letter informing him that his professional credentials as a Clinical Pastoral Supervisor were revoked by his certifying organization, the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.
In 1990, the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy restored George's credentials as a Clinical Pastoral Supervisor and Pastoral Psychotherapist. Bill Carr, who was Director of Chaplains at the University of Arkansas, hired George to join his staff. When Carr resigned in 1994, George was then made director of the department. When George himself retired in 2005, George Hull was appointed Director of the Department. Hull kept George Buck on as an associate until 2016, when he finally retired fully.
George Buck trained a number of pastoral clinicians through many decades of work, perhaps most notably Susan McDougal, who was one of George's last protégées. She is now herself director of Chaplaincy at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, the position George himself once held.
George was of the generation of Len Cedarleaf, Nick Ristad, Armen Jorjorian, Myron Madden, Wayne Oates, Seward Hiltner, each of whom he was friends with, and so many other colorful men and women luminaries who left their mark on history, the kind who seem to be missing from the current generation. They were mostly men in those early years because there were in that era precious few women in the profession of pastoral ministry from which pastoral supervisors were drawn. In 1970 there were only two women pastoral supervisors in the entire country. And of course, they were primarily white because of the economic repression of non-whites that made it difficult for any non-white to get the kind of education and training required for the task.
George's life was colorful and distinctive. My memory of him contrasts starkly with the pale colorlessness of the current generation of alleged pastoral clinicians. Perhaps this current generation simply has to die off before anything significant, dynamic, and creative can reemerge in the broader field of pastoral care and psychotherapy.
George enriched the CPSP community in his last decades before full retirement and after. I had not seen much of George in the last few years. Closeted as he was in a nursing home in Little Rock, I visited with him on only a couple of occasions, escorted to see him by George Hull. In death, he will remain a strong, colorful, and dear friend who significantly enriched my own life and so many others.
May George now rest in peace.