Obituary: Joseph Edward Hasazi, 1943‑2020 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Joseph Edward Hasazi, 1943‑2020

South Burlington man made outstanding contributions to the field of psychology in Vermont

Published December 18, 2020 at 4:00 a.m.
Updated December 18, 2020 at 2:46 p.m.

Joseph Hasazi - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Joseph Hasazi

Joseph Edward Hasazi, 76, of South Burlington passed away on December 8, 2020, after a yearlong battle with cancer. Even as the disease and treatment wreaked their havoc and the pandemic required Joe to quarantine, he remained positive and was a source of joy and connection for his family and many friends. This was consistent with who Joe was throughout his life: a beloved father, husband, brother, cousin, uncle, mentor, colleague and friend who invested in relationships the way others do in stocks or gold. Friends and family were the most valued currency in his life, and those of us who were beneficiaries of his love and support are devastated by his death.

Joe grew up in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., an only child until his parents surprised him with a little sister, Kris, whom he adored and shared a special bond with despite their 22-year age difference. He received his higher education at the University of Miami, where he earned his PhD in psychology and met his soul mate Susan who predeceased him 19 months ago after 51 years of marriage. In 1970, he was hired by the University of Vermont psychology department, and he and Susan moved to Vermont, where they built a community of friends who became family and excelled in their respective careers. In 1986, when Joe was 43, their daughter Sarah was born, and Joe had a second soul mate. An attentive, proud father, Joe ensured that Sarah grew up surrounded by love and had a life full of opportunity.

Loyalty and steadfastness were among Joe’s defining qualities and what made him a role model for so many who knew him. When Susan was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease 37 years into their marriage, he devoted himself to her care until the day she died, with him by her side. When Sarah moved away from Vermont at 18, they talked on the phone every day, and Joe visited her frequently in the different cities where she lived to do the things he loved best: attend jazz shows, see plays, eat at the best restaurants and spend time with his beloved daughter.

For much of his career, Joe was an educator, but he was both a teacher and a student outside of academia, as well — curious about the world and the people he met, asking questions about our lives, and generously sharing his knowledge and advice, which were abundant and uncomplicated but never unsolicited. And he taught us through example how to live a full life.

With Susan and later Sarah, too, he traveled the world, living abroad in Portugal and Italy at different points. He could be counted on to find the hot new restaurant in any city he visited but was also known by first name at his favorite spots in Vermont. He celebrated all the holidays, from Easter to Passover to Hanukkah to Christmas, as well as nearly half a century of Thanksgivings spent with his and Susan’s dear friends the Floods. Joe loved both good food and music and enjoyed nothing more than playing for friends an album he’d discovered over a classic cocktail and wheel of Harbison. In the last month of his life, he curated a playlist of his 100 favorite songs, which range from Chance the Rapper to Chet Baker and reflect both Joe’s taste and how cool he was, as loved by his daughter’s young friends as he was by colleagues and contemporaries.

Joe was a highly successful psychologist, advocate and educator whose career was not driven by ambition nor defined by money. As in life, at work Joe followed his interests and made the world a better place — by connecting with individuals, educating communities and helping improve the systems that scaffold our lives.

His professional accomplishments are too long to list here, but highlights include the 30 years he spent at the University of Vermont, where, over the course of his tenure, he was able to secure millions of dollars in funding for his work on developmental-disability research and practice. He dedicated much of his career to the deinstitutionalization of people with developmental disabilities, which he viewed as a social justice issue. A gifted mentor, he served as the primary adviser for dozens of UVM graduate students, including Al Vecchione, who was not only Joe’s student but also his colleague and among his closest friends. Together the two worked for decades to ensure that people who previously had been viewed as unable to live in the community were provided the support, evidence-based services and love they needed to do so.

Also while at UVM, Joe helped create a multidisciplinary child development center that offered services never before seen in the state and ultimately became the Vermont model for preschools. He advocated for the state’s first licensing law for psychologists, which was passed in 1976, and served as chair of the licensing board formed as part of the law, the Board of Psychological Examiners, from 1980 to 1985. He also served as the first chair of the American Psychological Association’s Continuing Education Program, a subject dear to his heart. To support the continuing education of Vermont practitioners and provide them access to world-renowned experts, in 1996 he cofounded the Vermont Trauma Institute with his colleague and dear friend Elliott Benay, with whom Joe spoke almost daily for the 45 years of their friendship.

Upon his retirement from UVM in 2000, Joe went into private practice with a specialty in forensic psychology. In this role, he continued to strive for justice as an expert witness who connected deeply with those on whose behalf he was testifying, as well as jurors, lawyers and judges.

Joe received many accolades and awards throughout his 50-year career, but he was most proud of the Fulbright Scholarship he won in 1985, which allowed him to teach and conduct research in Lisbon, Portugal, and a 2007 award he co-earned from the Vermont Psychological Association for outstanding contributions to the field of psychology in Vermont.

Joe believed the world could and should be a better and more equitable place. His favorite sport was politics, and he was not shy about sharing his views, whether in Facebook posts, the comments section of news articles or conversations around the dinner table. The universe’s parting gift to him was the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, which he witnessed with joy and relief a month before his death and celebrated with a glass of good Burgundy.

Two months before Joe died, Sarah and her husband, CJ, moved in to care for him. Relieved from the side effects of treatment, he spent this time making political donations; adding songs to his playlist; enjoying elaborate meals prepared by his best friend and next-door neighbor, Chrysanne Chotas; and lovingly ribbing the family he’d been forced by the pandemic to live apart from for seven months. Just as Joe demonstrated for his beloveds how to live well, he showed us how to die, too — with dignity, grace and a sense of humor, surrounded by the people we love.

Joe is survived by his daughter, Sarah, and her husband, CJ Walsh; his sister, Kris Morrison, and her husband, Jeff; numerous cousins and nieces; as well as the many friends he counted as family.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Joe’s name to the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization doing great work on issues important to him, including disability rights, racial justice and immigration. His family plans to throw a party next summer to celebrate Joe the way he would have wanted: eating delicious food and drinking great wine, sharing stories and dancing, and listening to his playlist.

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