In Memory of Morry Tolmach, MSW

by Stanley S. Mandell, PHD

Our community, professional and musical, was fortunate to have such a passionate and generous voice and such skilled leadership as that of Morry Tolmach. His intense curiosity, passionate immersion, and search for excellence in many diverse areas of life made him a rare and wonderful friend and colleague.

I met Morry in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s. He was working as a Social Worker for Kaiser Permanente and had a strong background and training in psychoanalytic approaches to therapy. Morry had organized some ad hoc educational meetings at therapists’ homes. I met him when he brought in Albert Mason to give a talk to a group of social workers and psychologists.

So when we met again, some five years later in Seattle, I was not surprised to see Morry doing what he did so well, bringing people together to learn. He did this throughout his life with local opera aficionados, and with psychoanalytic theory and therapy for COR and the Alliance.

And what a psychoanalytic pedigree! He had furthered that orientation during his work in New York City as a social worker for the Jewish Board of Guardians, after his treasured training at the VA Hospital in Seattle. The VA’s mental health leadership and supervision in those days was by Fritz Schmidl, husband of Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute’s cofounder, the beloved and influential Edith Buxbaum.

He spoke often about Fritz’s impact on him and his understanding of patients. Fritz and Edith had emigrated/escaped from Vienna in the late 1930’s. Edith was a student of Anna Freud, and a cousin of Bruno Bettelheim. Fritz’s mother had been a patient of Freud. A relative of Fritz’s, Freud’s patient “Anna O,” helped Fritz and his sister get an education. That lineage was passed on generously from Morry to our community.

We all benefited from Morry’s leadership and support in the founding and promotion of both the NW Alliance and COR/NW Family Development Center. And the cases he shared in his presentations were vivid, fascinating, and full of insights gained through a long career of dedication to long-term therapy, often with very disturbed patients.

As son of a cantor, Morry grew up loving music. Singing and vocal music was a lifelong passion of his, with opera being a major interest of his and Faye’s. He also sang in perhaps the best known and most respected US professional choir when he was in New York City, the Robert Shaw Chorale. He decided one day, after listening to my recording of Bach’s B-minor Mass, that it was not good enough. So he gifted me the Robert Shaw recording, which I treasure.

As a passionate and independent teen, and a die-hard Notre Dame football fan in the 1940’s, before games were televised, Morry traveled back east once to attend a game in person. He played running back for WSU and was a passionate fan. Yes, he got depressed and angry after his teams lost. I have such fond memories of Morry, Mel Knight (also a former college football player) and myself screaming at the tv during a Seahawks or Huskies game, sometimes in joy, sometimes in rage.

Morry was a unique treasure to so many individuals, to me and to our community. We are fortunate to have had him grace our presence and enrich our lives for so many decades.

Categories: Featured ArticlePublished On: January 1st, 2022Tags: