Wells taught in School of Social Work for 30 years

Richard A. Wells, a long-time faculty member in the School of Social Work, died Sept. 21, 2018, at 87.

A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Wells was born Feb. 7, 1931 and completed his entire schooling there, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology at United College in 1952 and completing all his graduate work at the University of Manitoba, including a bachelor’s of social work (1956) and masters of social work (1959) in casework. He began his academic career there as well, as a field instructor in 1961.

He became a Pitt School of Social Work faculty member in 1966 and retired in 1996. His colleague, Edward W. Sites, now a professor emeritus, joined the school two years later.

“He was a very warm, soft-spoken, gentle person with a very quick, dry wit,” Sites recalled. “He was friends with a wide spectrum of people in the University. He was considered a good colleague by a wide variety of people.

“He had a healthy skepticism of over-reaching authority,” Sites continued. “He challenged sometimes what he considered the over-reaching authority of University deans. He was not wont to carry a banner or to march. He handled it in his own soft-spoken way.”

He was also a popular teacher, Sites added. “The students resonated to the courses he taught and he was often over-subscribed.”

When Wells and Sites first started, the School of Social Work taught only graduate students and they remained Wells’ focus, even after a bachelor’s degree program was implemented. These older, experienced students were often already employed in the field, Sites said, “and so they knew the content he was providing was on target.”

Wells’ most important contribution to his field, said Sites, was “his prescient advocacy for short-term treatment, long before this became popular.” At the time, psychotherapy was felt to be a long-term undertaking, and the community mental health movement was just beginning. “He was very much a national leader in advocating for a much more targeted, focused, short-term approach to people with family and mental health issues.”

Wells published his first book on the subject in 1974, “Short-Term Treatment,” which was popular enough to warrant a second book on the subject in 1992.

“He was just as popular as a therapist,” Sites said, since Wells maintained a private practice outside the University as well.

He is survived by his children, Sarah and Paul, his companion, Allegra and sisters Nancy, Diana and Joan.