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March 5, 2015

Obituary: George H. Shames

george shames joe kapelewskiGeorge H. Shames, professor emeritus in communications disorders and psychology, died March 1, 2015, after a long Pitt career that began with his bachelor’s degree in 1948. He was 88.

Noma B. Anderson, once Shames’ student and now dean of the College of Health Professions at the University of Tennessee, recalled his careful stewardship of her academic career “in a way that showed respect for me as a doctoral student.” She also recalls being “stunned and honored when George called to invite me to be co-editor with him” on the sixth edition of “Human Communication Disorders,” as well as two subsequent editions. She called him “a leader in stuttering theory and intervention … It’s impossible to overestimate the impact of his career on clinicians, clients and their families.”

Shames served in the Navy in World War II at Pearl Harbor, 1944-46. He then earned all his degrees at the University, including a second arts and sciences degree, an MS in 1949 and a PhD in 1952 from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, becoming a licensed clinical psychologist as well.

During his undergraduate years at Pitt, Shames was a member of the baseball team, earning a letter and, later, election to the Western Pennsylvania Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

He was a graduate assistant while working on his doctorate and joined the Pitt faculty as an instructor in 1950. In 1952 he moved up to assistant professor; his appointment was split between psychology and speech. He was a clinical supervisor from the beginning of his tenure at Pitt and was named associate director of the speech clinic, and then director. He was a guest lecturer at universities throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Shames wrote “Counseling the Communicatively Disabled and Their Families: A Manual for Clinicians,” and, after his retirement, a mystery novel, “The Company of Truth,” about a boy who overcomes stuttering.

Books he coauthored include “Stutter-Free Speech: A Goal for Therapy,” “Stuttering Then and Now” and “Operant Conditioning and the Management of Stuttering.”

He was a member of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), an organization that he led and for which he served on numerous boards and committees. He received the Honors of the Association, ASHA’s highest award, for lifetime achievement in 2006.

Shames also developed an innovative therapy for the treatment of stuttering disorders. He wrote about the invention in 1997, describing “a new device that uses transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation technology, which provides electrical feedback through surface electrodes attached just below the clavicular notch … [It] is a small, pocket-sized device that provides feedback to speakers about how they are using their vocal cords during speech. For some people such information helps to improve the way they talk; for the person who stutters, it addresses one of the core behaviors of the problem. We hope to change the way people who stutter talk; what they think, believe and feel about themselves; what they do in reaction to their speech, and how they interact with listeners and with society at large.”

He retired Dec. 31, 1989, as a professor and was awarded emeritus status.

Colleague and coauthor Herb Rubin, now an emeritus professor, said: “What stood out the most for me was his perennial optimism and sense of self worth, and that he held on to that spirit and the dignity that came with it … He was no less warm and positive when I last saw him in October than he had been in the 56 years I had known him.”

Shames continued teaching as a visiting professor at several universities and Pitt’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, for which he taught “Counseling as a Real-Life Encounter.”

He is survived by his wife, Joan “Josie” Shames, children Hilary Julia Shames and Matthew Eric Shames, grandchildren Lisa and Heidi Langhorst and Ella and Jackson Shames, and nieces and nephews Erika Wofsy, Deborah Shore, David Shore, Benita “Bonnie” Dombrowski, Rebecca Demas, Geoffrey Kramer and Benjamin Kramer.

The family suggests memorial contributions be directed to the Alzheimer Disease Research Center, 200 Lothrop St., Pittsburgh 15213.

—Marty Levine