The Fordham Ram

Olivia Hooker, Ph.D, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Passes at 103

Olivia+Hooker%2C+Ph.D.%2C+was+a+professor+at+Fordham+from+1963+to+1985%2C+and+one+of+the+last+survivors+of+the+Tulsa+Race+Riots.+%28Courtesy+of+Karl+Shultz%29
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Olivia Hooker, Ph.D, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Passes at 103

Olivia Hooker, Ph.D., was a professor at Fordham from 1963 to 1985, and one of the last survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots. (Courtesy of Karl Shultz)

Olivia Hooker, Ph.D., was a professor at Fordham from 1963 to 1985, and one of the last survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots. (Courtesy of Karl Shultz)

Olivia Hooker, Ph.D., was a professor at Fordham from 1963 to 1985, and one of the last survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots. (Courtesy of Karl Shultz)

Olivia Hooker, Ph.D., was a professor at Fordham from 1963 to 1985, and one of the last survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots. (Courtesy of Karl Shultz)


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By Theresa Schliep 

One of the first African-American women to join the Coast Guard and one of the last survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots. Olivia Hooker, Ph.D., professor emerita of psychology at Fordham, died last week at her home in White Plains. She was 103.

Hooker was a professor at Fordham from 1963 to 1985. Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, said to Fordham Magazine that Hooker was more than just a pioneer.

“She served her country, and went on to serve generations of Fordham students as a professor, mentor and role model,” said McShane. “That Dr. Hooker did this despite formidable racial and gender barriers only highlights her talents and accomplishments.”

The United States Coast Guard announced her death on Twitter last Wednesday.

Hooker was born in 1915 in Oklahoma. In 1921, the Ku Klux Klan burned her father’s store in the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. In an oral history recorded with the White Plains Public Library, Hooker said she often corrected people when they described the violence as riots. That implies an exchange of violence. They were more akin to a “disaster,” Hooker said, and her family members were the innocent victims.

Hooker received her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University.

In 1945, she became the first African-American woman to serve in active duty in the United States Coast Guard. In 1947, she received her masters degree in psychological services from Columbia University, then a doctorate in psychology at the University of Rochester in 1961.

Harold Takooshian, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Fordham, became close friends with her in 2002. He said Hooker went out of her way to attend and speak at the memorial service of Anne Anastasi, Ph.D.

“Once anybody meets her, they just are enchanted by her, she’s just the real thing,” he said. “So I kept in contact with her since 2002.”

While at Fordham, Hooker worked with people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Takooshian said she was always smiling.

“I don’t think it’s possible to find a picture of Olivia not smiling,” he said. “In the Bible it says ‘a smiling face reveals a joyful heart,’ and that was her case. Even when negative things happened to her, she didn’t dwell on it.”

President Barack Obama acknowledged her at the Coast Guard’s class of 2015 at a ceremony.

“She has been a professor and mentor to her students, a passionate advocate for Americans with disabilities, a psychologist counseling young children, a caregiver at the heights of the AIDS epidemic, a tireless voice for justice and equality,” said Obama.

Takooshian said that Hooker was nothing short of inspiring – she inspired even those who had just met her, like psychology students at Fordham.
“It’s fair to say she lived a long time in large part because she had this very positive attitude and everybody around her appreciated that,” said Takooshian.

“She was just surrounded by good vibrations.”

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Olivia Hooker, Ph.D, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Passes at 103