Off Deadline: Psychologist John Marquis left an indelible mark on Palo Alto and beyond


The recent passing of John Marquis, a respected psychologist and longtime Palo Alto resident, has left a hole of sadness among the many colleagues and friends who knew him personally or through his work.

He expanded his professional activities well beyond his 25 years with the Palo Alto Veterans Administration, where he counseled veterans for battle trauma and personal-adjustment challenges a distant echo of his noncombat draftee service in the Army during World War II.

He was a professor emeritus in behavioral medicine at Stanford University, where he passed along his deep reservoir of knowledge to future medical professionals, and he was affiliated with the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, where he was the head of clinical education.

Beyond his professional roles, he and his daughter Priscilla (also a psychologist) became engaged in conducting trainings and doing humanitarian work internationally through an affiliation with a relatively new technique: "Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing," or EMDR, developed by Francine Shapiro, designed to quickly identify and neutralize specific sources of anxiety and distress.

"My dad has lived a compassionate and sympathetic and exemplary life," a son, Paul, said of his father, who had undergone several years of declining health and illness.

But this isn't an obit for John, whom I knew personally since the early 1980s when he became the principal adviser for the "Family LifeSkills" materials for Palo Alto High School. It is a brief reminiscence about him, as his family and friends prepare for a Sunday, May 1, memorial service at Mitchell Park, not far from his longtime home on Ross Road in south Palo Alto.

The LifeSkills materials were developed by a partnership between the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Palo Alto High School, although Gunn High School also used them for a time. They are still online at

"I use them clinically all the time" in working with counseling clients, Priscilla said of the LifeSkills articles. The high school program materials consisted primarily of eight mailings sent out a couple of weeks apart to every student.

John was particularly proud of his role in helping develop the materials. A list of the titles provides a hint at the breadth of the areas covered, designed to enhance family communications and give young people a sense of greater personal power over their lives. The mailings were: Being an Anger Tamer, Beyond the Blame Barrier, The Power of Showing You Care, Six Tricks of Communicating, Taking Care of Business, Taking Care of Yourself, Being a Skilled Negotiator and Family Problem Solving.

As with many positive things, the program was an outgrowth of a tragedy: A young woman at Palo Alto High went to her mother on a weekend and said she had to talk. The mother and how many of us parents have said this? replied that she couldn't right then because she was too busy. The girl went into the garage and hanged herself. I still have trouble fathoming the anguish of the mother.

Her suicide was not the only self-inflicted death of a student, and then-Principal Jim Shroyer approached the Palo Alto Medical Foundation to ask about help with an anti-suicide program.

In the early 1980s I was director of public affairs/community relations at the nonprofit foundation, after retiring from the erstwhile Palo Alto Times/Peninsula Times-Tribune in 1979. One day George Bonham, the foundation's vice president for education, came into my office and reported the meeting with Shroyer, asking if we could develop such a program. I asked for a day to think about it.

In the morning I delivered to him a 2-1/2-page single-spaced memorandum saying we could do that. But in my journalistic years I had seen some evaluations of early (1970s-era) programs that concluded many had mixed results between suicide prevention and validation as an alternative.

But the core of the memo was this: Do we as adults want our primary message to the next generation to be, "Don't kill yourselves"? Instead, the message should be, I felt, something on the order of hints about how to connect better with family and friends and how to take charge of your life and feelings.

I proposed to build on research being done at Stanford in the "building self-efficacy" work (a kind of "I can do this" sense) of Professor Albert Bandura and in its separate disease prevention/health promotion program designed by Dr. John Farquhar and team, which focused on how to inspire people to change unhealthy to healthy behaviors.

We assembled a team of counselors, physicians, educators, teachers, parents and students and set to work for 18 months, developing writing, testing out and finally printing and mailing the materials.

Along the way, a young Palo Alto woman, Aliceanne Hanko, contacted me for a topic she needed for her college thesis. I asked her to find me a dozen or so respected professional counselors in the adolescent/families with adolescents arena. In a couple of weeks she came up with a list of about 50 including John Marquis.

We sent out a letter asking two things: for each to list the three most common issues they see in their young clients and to "take a mental time trip" back to when the adolescent was very young and think about what one thing they could have conveyed to the parents that might have made a difference in the adolescent's life.

John was a first responder. He sat down and dictated two tape cassettes laden with concepts and ideas. There were other contributors, including one who observed that about 95 percent of what mental-health professionals do is putting emotional Band-Aids on their clients while doing very little in the way of prevention.

But John was the principal adviser and support for a program that still lingers.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be emailed at He also writes periodic blogs at

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16 people like this
Posted by Kirsten
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 1, 2016 at 3:04 pm

So sorry for the loss of John, it is a loss to his family, to his field, and to Palo Alto. We should all try to live up to his example of a life well, and compassionately lived.

1 person likes this
Posted by Janet
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2016 at 11:55 am

[Post removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Bette
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 2, 2016 at 2:42 pm

I was on the Lifeskills committee and remember the meetings with Jay and John held at PAMF with great fondness.

Bette Kiernan

6 people like this
Posted by Mary N
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Thank you Jay for the reminder of the materials of yours and John's work. I still have couple of sets of the original materials - glad to know they are online. I'm a psychologist that has worked here in Palo Alto in private practice and at Children's Health Council for almost 30 years. Best to you.

4 people like this
Posted by Lynnsegal
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 4, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Lynnsegal is a registered user.

I worked with John at the VA from 1968 to 1972. I am saddened to learn of his death. He was a friendly easy going guy, truly dedicated to the behavioral method of treatment. And a lot of fun to have at a Christmas party.
I am sure he will be missed.

Like this comment
Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:40 pm

I was a psychology intern at the Palo Alto VA in 1968 and stayed as staff for the following two years. I worked with John Marquis in both capacities. He was a great teacher, an early, passionate evangelist for behavioral therapies and a very good guy. What a long, productive and important career.

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