100-Year-Old Olivia Hooker on Fordham, Faith, and Redemption

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Fordham Psychology Professor Emerita Olivia Hooker, PhD, survived the Tulsa Riots of 1921 by hiding under the family kitchen table. Outside, white men burned her affluent black community to the ground. Her father, who owned a department store, moved the family out of the area, but returned to rebuild his business.

“He wasn’t going to be run out,” said Hooker, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 12.

To say that Hooker comes from resilient stock would be putting it mildly. Her mother’s favorite saying was “I thank whatever gods there be for my incorruptible soul.”

Likewise, Hooker wasn’t one easily dissuaded. She would go on in life to become the first African American woman to enlist with the Coast Guard. After receiving two rejection letters “saying there was a complication” with her application, she wrote to the secretary to the navy who replied that she was more than welcome to join.

“We worked so hard to get them to invite us in, so I thought someone should go,” she said.

On March 12, the U.S. Coast Guard renamed a building at its Staten Island base in her honor.

Hooker earned a doctorate in psychology and was a member of the Fordham faculty from 1963 to 1985. Her office was next door to Anne Anastasi, the pioneering developer of psychometrics.

“She really loved Anne,” recalled Harold Harold Takooshian, PhD, professor of psychology.

In 2002, Takooshian invited Hooker to speak at symposium on Anastasi at the American Psychological Association (APA) in Chicago. She went at her own expense to pay tribute to her colleague. Takooshian said Hooker’s “grace, sense of history, and her knowledge of cross cultural psychology” resonated with the audience.

“Every time she speaks, she inspires,” said Takooshian. “That was true the first time I met her 13 years ago, and it’s true now.”

At the symposium Hooker noted Anastasi’s “very special interest” in students–a phrase which could be used to describe herself as well.

She said that teaching reminded her of another one of her mother’s favorite sayings: “This gift without the giver is bare.”

“You don’t just throw a package at someone; you spend some time with them,” she said. “You have be sensitive to the needs of students and give wholly.”

“Some students are late bloomers. You have to let them know they have a talent and try to bring it out. That’s one of the joys of teaching.”

WFUV’s Robin Shannon also interviewed Dr. Hooker on January 15

Professor Hooker’s Facebook fan page is The Phenomenal Dr. Olivia J. Hooker.

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