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Rhea
In Memory of Rhea A. White:
Recollections of a Life in Parapsychology,
and Beyond

PF Lyceum Blog #19
posted April 24th, 2007

by

Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D.
Parapsychology Foundation


Click here for Recollections of and Appreciations for Rhea A. White


Many of us in parapsychology were saddened to learn that Rhea Amelia White died on February 24th, 2007 at her home in New Bern, North Carolina. Her life was devoted to a great extent to the field of parapsychology. When I first learned about Rhea in the 1970s I knew her as the bibliographer par excellence in parapsychology, but she already was, and later became, much more, as her bibliography so clearly illustrates.

Born in Utica, New York, on May 6th, 1931, Rhea studied at Utica College and Syracuse University from 1949 to 1951. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Pennsylvania State University, 1953), and a Masters in Library Science (Pratt Institute, 1965). After obtaining the latter degree she spent many years employed in a public library, while working in parapsychology part-time. In later years she worked towards a doctoral degree in sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (1991–1993), and was granted an honorary doctorate by the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in 2006. In addition, Rhea was awarded the Hans Peter Luhn Award in 1965 from the New York Chapter of the American Society for Information Science for an essay she wrote about the information needs of psychology in 1965. The Parapsychological Association, of which she was a charter member, honored her twice by electing her as President in 1984, and by awarding her the Outstanding Contribution to Research Award in 1992. There is no question that, over the years, many individuals appreciated her career and accomplishments. (For recollections of and appreciations for Rhea and her work, click here.)

Rhea was not always interested in becoming involved with parapsychology. Instead she wanted to be a golfer. But life intervened and she was changed by an experience she had when she was in her junior year at college. As she wrote:

I had a near-death experience associated with an automobile accident that changed my life. I devoted my life to trying to understand “where” I was when I found myself seemingly above the earth bathed in a sense of unity and singing peace and incredible aliveness, enveloped in felt meaning while my body lay unconscious on the hood of my car. I thought I had died — and it was wonderful. I was “told” that “nothing that ever lived could possibly die.” I felt the “everlasting arms” behind me to the ends of the universe. Then I awakened out on the hood of my car, unable to move, and in great pain. (White, n.d.) (For more on this experience click here.)

Rhea wanted to understand her experience and she read widely and eventually started working in parapsychology. Between 1954 and 1958 she was a Research Fellow at J. B. Rhine’s Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University — continued today in the Rhine Research Center. In addition, she was a Ralph Drake Perry Research Fellow in Parapsychology at Duke University. During these years she became involved in many experimental studies.

In later years Rhea worked at the American Society for Psychical Research as a Research and Editorial Associate (1959–1962), and as the Director of Information (1965–1980), and at the Menninger Foundation as a Research Fellow (1962–1965). Between 1965 and 1995 she was a Reference Librarian at the East Meadow Public Library, at East Meadow, New York. In addition, Rhea was the founder and director of the Parapsychology Sources of Information Center (1981–1989), which changed in 1990 to the Exceptional Human Experience Network, a project that was still developing when Rhea died.

Rhea’s well-known bibliographical contributions, started during the 1960s. Stanley Krippner referred to her as “parapsychology’s bibliographer,” and stated: “It is no exaggeration to say that parapsychological science has become more articulate, more literate, and more widely disseminated as a result of Rhea White’s imagination, diligence, and devotion” (Krippner, 1992.)

Frontispiece of Surveys in Parapsychology edited by Rhea White
Her bibliographical work was complemented with important editorial work for publications such as the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Theta, and Research in Parapsychology, and for her anthology of review papers, Surveys in Parapsychology (White, 1976). In addition, she founded, edited, and published Parapsychology Abstracts International (which later changed into Exceptional Human Experience), and EHE News. Then in 1981, Rhea founded the Parapsychology Sources of Information Center, an organization that has as its purpose the accumulation and distribution of information related to parapsychology.

Rhea was also known for her conceptual writings that made suggestions to change current thinking in parapsychology, which later changed into her concept of and work with exceptional human experiences. (For more information click here.)

In addition, Rhea wrote about other of subjects. One of them was the psychic and transcendent aspects of sports (Murphy & White, 1995).

Personal Recollections of Rhea

Frontispiece of the first edition of Parapsychology Sources of Information
When I started reading in parapsychology in the early 1970s just before entering college, and somewhat later as a young psychology student, Rhea was a well established professional in the field. I remember how much I appreciated and learned from the reference works she compiled. Works such as Parapsychology: Sources of Information (White & Dale, 1973), and Surveys in Parapsychology (White, 1976), provided for me useful guides to the literature. In fact, and looking back, these two books represent for me a very pleasant recollection of my beginnings, and of an era, in parapsychology.

It was a thrill for me when I saw Rhea’s picture in an issue of the ASPR Newsletter in the 1970s. Little did I know that years later I would have the chance to review her work for scholarly journals (e.g., Alvarado, 1984), and would work with her in compiling bibliographies (e.g., Alvarado, White & Zingrone, 1993).

I had forgotten when I first met Rhea, but was recently reminded when I reread an email she wrote to me on December 19, 2004, that it was at the 1979 convention of the Parapsychological Association: “You came over to congratulate me on my symposium paper on the generation of research ideas in parapsychology (or something like that) and you introduced yourself to me.” Rhea was very supportive in my early writing career, and encouraged me to write both for the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research and for Theta. She edited my papers patiently, going over several literal translations I made from Spanish to English. I still remember how she encouraged me to present historical perspective papers in the literature, and how good I felt when, after I got a paper published in the opening pages of the June 1982 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, she wrote to congratulate me for having the lead paper in the journal. Rhea was for me a friend, a person who encouraged and helped my writing career, as well as a teacher.

Given her background, Rhea understood well my feelings for good parapsychology libraries. When she learned of my first visit to the new location of the Parapsychology Foundation’s Eileen J. Garrett Library in Greenport, Long Island she wrote: “I bet you felt you died and went to heaven!” (Email, December 7, 2005).

Rhea loved people, and she loved cats as well. As she wrote to me: “I have never been lonely, but I think I would be if it weren’t for my cats and email – my link to the world” (Email, September 28, 2004). Rhea White's Cats Dashiel, Grayem, Scampers and StriderIn fact, the last email Rhea sent to me was one in reply to pictures of my two cats that I had sent her. In this letter she described in some detail her new cats, adding that she was writing a book about all the cats she had had in her house in New Bern, N.C.: “The book is called Catsville Capers, Catsville being my house and land here ….” (email, August 17, 2005).

As I look back I can but appreciate my interactions with Rhea and realize that she made a difference in my life. Her many letters over the years taught me things, and provided encouragement, that you cannot get through college. In addition to her parapsychological work, she was a teacher, an example, and a source of inspiration for many other people (for other individual’s recollections and appreciations of Rhea click here). In many ways her life was an exceptional human experience, and one that touched and energized many of us. Her energy and purpose of mind is shown in the following statement she wrote in 2005: “I’ll be 74 soon … But I still have what I regard my major contributions to complete …. These are the best years of my life …” (Posting to Survival Net, managed by Charles T. Tart, March 1, 2005, reprinted with permission of list owner).

References

Alvarado, C. S. (1984). Bibliographic tools in parapsychology: Comments on Rhea A. White’s Parapsychology Abstracts International. Journal of Parapsychology, 48, 51–55.

Alvarado, C. S., White, R. A., & Zingrone, N. L. (1993). Bibliography of the published works of Charles Honorton. Journal of Parapsychology, 57, 215.
Online at: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2320/is_n2_v57/ai_14890639

Krippner, S. (1992). Rhea White: Parapsychology’s Bibliographer. Journal of Parapsychology, 56, 258. Online at: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2320/is_n3_v56/ai_13771780

Murphy, M., & White, R. A. (1995). In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports. New York: Penguin/Arkana.

White, R. A. (Ed.). (1976). Surveys in Parapsychology. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

White, R. A., & Dale, L. A. (Comps.). (1973). Parapsychology: Sources of Information. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

White, R.A. (n.d.). “Who is Rhea White?” Online at: http://www.parapsych.org/members/r_white.html

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