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Obituaries for Dr. Kathleen Galvin

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of CSCA Lifetime Member Dr. Kathleen Galvin. Kathleen was professor emeritus in the School of Communication at Northwestern University.

Thank you to CSCA members Dr. David H. Zarefsky and Dr. Dawn O. Braithwaite for submitting these obituaries.

(Submitted by Dr. David H. Zarefsky)

I have the sad task of reporting that Kathleen Galvin, Professor Emerita of Communication Studies at Northwestern University, died on Sunday, September 12 at her home in Evanston, Illinois. She was surrounded by her husband of almost 50 years, Charles Wilkinson, and their children. Kathy joined the Northwestern faculty in 1968 upon the completion of her doctoral degree and remained at Northwestern until her retirement in 2019. She was chair of the Department of Speech Education from the mid-1970s until 1988. She served as Associate Dean of the School of Speech (now School of Communication) from 1988 until 2001. In 1990 her faculty appointment was moved to the Department of Communication Studies. She also served for many years on the University’s faculty Committee on Athletics and Recreation.

Kathy was widely recognized as a distinguished teacher. Although her early work was in the areas of instructional communication and pedagogy, for the past four decades she has been known primarily as a scholar of family communication. She was one of the pioneers in this field within the communication discipline. With various coauthors, she wrote Family Communication: Cohesion and Change, the first edition of which appeared in 1982. The book has gone through ten editions and the eleventh is now in preparation. Kathy also authored or coauthored numerous textbooks at both the high school and college levels, prominently including the coauthored Person to Person: An Introduction to Speech Communication, which went through multiple editions.

Kathy served NCA in several capacities, including chairing the Educational Policies Board and serving on the Executive Committee and Legislative Assembly. She was a frequent presence at NCA conventions until her health began to decline. She will be remembered not only as a leader of the discipline and a professional colleague, but also as a close, dear friend to many. Arrangements are pending.

(Submitted by Dr. Dawn O. Braithwaite)

Dearest friends and colleagues: I so appreciated the note David Zarefsky shared about the death of Kathleen Galvin and the follow up by Tom Socha. I knew this day was coming, but my heart is heavy nonetheless. The cruelty of Alzheimer’s Disease silenced her in so many ways. But in talking with her husband, Charles Wilkinson, and one of her daughters over this sad journey, the disease did not completely envelope her spirit until closer to the end. I stand committed that we will not let it define our memories and appreciation, and most importantly, her enormous contributions.

Of course, I knew who Kathleen Galvin was throughout my whole career. Family Communication: Cohesion and Change (now at Routledge) was the first family communication textbook, which she and Bernard Brommel first published the book in 1982. Carma Bylund joined along the way, and Kathleen kindly invited me to the authorship team for the 9th edition. Paul Schrodt, Colleen Colaner, and I are now working on the 11th edition.
Kathleen was instrumental in helping to develop the Family Communication Division at NCA, which started in 1989 (beginning as a commission). Everyone who came to their panels (and also Interpersonal Communication Division panels), knew that Kathleen was a regular attendee. She was always collecting papers, especially from up and coming scholars, that she might incorporate in the book and other projects. And she really did know who the up and comers were. What I learned from working on this book and other family communication projects with Kathleen was her encyclopedic knowledge of the family communication literature. 

Many of the students she supported were not Kathleen’s, but felt like they were her students, given her mentorship. I know she was an active supporter of several of my doctoral students and younger colleagues early in their careers, and I received that same support from her as I transitioned to a focus on family communication years ago. It is a wonderful gift she gave so freely. 

Kathleen was asked to write a chapter on family communication for the interdisciplinary Journal of Family Theory and Review (and believe me, few people from that group were even aware of our discipline). We worked on that 2014 manuscript together and had the opportunity to introduce many scholars and practitioners to our discipline. Kathleen contributed to a number of other interdisciplinary publications as one of our chief ambassadors.
One of Kathleen’s most important scholarly contributions was developing the concept of “discourse dependent families,” centering communication in the formation, enactment, and legitimization of family, and highlighting communication’s central role in diverse family forms. Leslie Baxter’s starting place for her 2014 Remaking Family Communicatively volume included Galvin’s conceptual work.
Kathleen Galvin dedicated her career to one Big Ten institution—Northwestern--where she arrived to earn her master’s degree all those years ago. She had a long and sustained career of service there, service to CSCA, and service and leadership in NCA.
Kathleen first served on the NCA Legislative Council in 1971, doing four stints as a representative to the association’s governing body, the last as recently as 2002. She served on a number of important committees and task forces on teaching and communication education, which was her other main area of scholarship, as David Zarefsky noted. She chaired both the Instructional Development Division and later the Family Communication Division. She served as a member of the association’s Educational Policies Board early in her career and then came back to direct the board from 2000-2003. From personal experience, I can say that the three-year commitment of directing an NCA board is a significant and sustained service responsibility. In that capacity, Kathleen also served on the association’s Administrative Committee (Executive Committee).
Several years ago, her Northwestern colleague and former NCA President David Zarefsky wrote about Kathleen’s significant and selfless service to NCA and her many roles at Northwestern, remarking, “Never one to claim the limelight, she rendered consistent high-quality service to NCA, to its members, and to the communication discipline, without seeking reward or recognition.” Several of us nominated her for the NCA Samuel L. Becker Distinguished Service Award, which she won. 
When Sam Becker passed away, his dear friend Bruce Gronbeck wrote a tribute highlighting Sam’s diverse qualities, and I see many of Sam’s attributes in Kathleen. Bruce wrote, “Sam Becker was humble, even tempered, frugal (he wore the same herring-boned grey sport coat to every NCA convention), and remarkably upbeat.” I cannot speak to her frugality, but Kathleen Galvin certainly personifies the other qualities on the list. 

I have been incredibly fortunate to become a colleague, co-author, and friend. I loved sharing meals with Kathy and husband Charlie Wilkinson (who also told me that she had been a ventriloquist in the Catskills!). She had a huge heart for Charlie, their three children, grandchildren, and for the discipline and for people. She was a wonderful friend who I will miss deeply. We have lost a giant.

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