In memoriam—Salvatore Palazzolo: A brave journeyman of the soul

A friend and colleague writes a tribute to the late Salvatore Palazzolo; Sal will be dearly missed

By Robert McInerney, PhD

Salvatore Palazzolo As the co-chair of our conference I was to take part in welcoming everyone and introducing our keynote speaker. I was on the theatre stage before the formalities were to begin and I started fooling around and saying “sibilance, sibilance” into the microphone. Sure enough I heard Sal cracking up in the audience and he cat-called up to me “Hey, Bob, what’s that from?” “Tom Hanks,” I said. “Not sure from what though.” Sal was quick to laugh, and years ago when I discovered I could make him laugh, I did so all the time because his laugh filled me with pleasure.

Sal was a marvelously curious person, charming and he genuinely listened when you spoke. He wanted to know who you were and, in a kind of devoted practice, he worked to remain open to others’ views, choices and lifestyles. Sal was edgy, he would leap in, despite insecurities and doubts — Sal was brave.

He was a synthetic and insightful thinker and passionate about life and his family. Every time we would talk, he had the same basic questions in mind, “What have we learned in life?” “How can we love and understand more?” “What meanings are out there that we can rely on?” Sal was totally on a journey and anyone could tell after talking with him for just a minute that he was a soul-searcher, a spiritual and existential aspirant every minute of the day. He drew you in because of this depth and genuineness. Everyone loved to talk with Sal.

For many of us, the last time we saw Sal was at our conference. Sal presented on the panel for the Ground Hog Day film symposium. His paper was erudite, superbly written and he read it with a clarity and liveliness that moved us — you could tell, it was palpable; you could feel the audience respond to it. When I saw him after his presentation I told him that he was fantastic and that I was totally blown away at how exceptional his paper was. I’m so happy I got the chance to tell Sal this.

I first met Sal in the master’s program at Duquesne in 1999. When I saw him I thought, “Oh, there’s another old guy in the program.” For many years I thought Sal and I were about the same age, he was in such great shape and that hair — great hair — but later I found out he was about 10 years older than I. I think because we were a bit older though, we gravitated toward one another and we had the New Jersey/New York fast talk style going on. I think he liked that I cursed all the time (even while discussing Heidegger); it cracked him up. In those days we had some awesome conversations, we would argue too and when we would see each other again any tensions we had would roll off our shoulders. Sal was quick to forgive and wanted always to connect, to be sincere, to speak our minds. In the most beautiful way too, Sal wore his heart out on his sleeve. All who knew him will attest that it was his heart and soul that made him such a beloved person. I loved him.

Our society was, I think, a new experience for Sal. I was thrilled when I saw that he would be coming to the APA Convention in Washington, D.C., and even more pleased to see him just a few weeks ago at our division conference. He came to the fatherhood panel I was on, and cried with me as we discussed our experiences of being fathers.

I think Sal felt welcomed and inspirited by our society. Just as he did for me, Brent Robbins graciously helped introduce Sal to many of our members. The last time I saw Sal, I got the sense that he was thriving and content. We talked about bike riding and staying fit. And so, although his death was so shocking and horrible, I can’t help but smile ever so slightly through my pain at the fact that Sal was on his bike, riding with friends and living the life he had. As I said, he was a brave journeyman of the soul and now, I am certain, a consummate spirit.