Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
It is with a sad heart that I write about Mrs. Eileen Coly, past president of the Parapsychology Foundation (PF), who passed away on November 18 after a long service to the field of parapsychology. I first met her during a Parapsychological Association convention in the mid-1980s, and got to know her better between 2000-2003 when my wife and colleague Nancy Zingrone and I worked for the PF in New York City. Many are the memories I have of her personality, that of a charming lady who projected much seriousness, but who also had a sense of humor and a lot of spunk that not everyone in the field got to see.
Mrs. C., as we called her—although others called her Babs—was the daughter of Eileen J. Garrett , the first President of the PF, and a well-known medium, publisher and business person. After her mother’s death late in 1970, Mrs. C. assumed the leadership of the PF. The PF’s board of trustees elected her President on March 6, 1971. Along with her, working on financial and other aspects, was her husband Robert Coly, and her daughter Lisette Coly .
Aspects of Mrs. C.’s life are described on a page on the PF’s website: “Eileen Coly has served as the President of the Parapsychology Foundation since 1970 . . . . Born and educated in England, Mrs. Coly traveled extensively with Garrett . . . . working as her assistant. They were separated during World War II, during which Mrs. Coly remained in England, surviving the bombing of London. After the war, Mrs. Coly settled in the United States in 1947 and worked at Creative Age Press and on Tomorrow magazine, both founded by Garrett. During the early years of the Foundation, Mrs. Coly raised her own family and served on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, coming back to work full time at the Foundation in 1966 . . . .” Another good source about her life is Rosemarie Pilkington’s “Interview with Eileen Coly” (In R. Pilkington, ed., Men and Women of Parapsychology: Personal Reflections. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1987, pp. 46-58; reprinted as ESPRIT: Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections, Volume 1 by Anomalist Books, 2010).
When people think of the contributions of the Parapsychology Foundation during its history—a topic discussed here —they tend to talk about Eileen Garrett. But they forget that Mrs. C. was President for more years than Garrett served, and that she led the PF well, continuing its well-known program to support the field via grants, conferences and publications (click here). I first approached the PF with a grant request around 1983 or 1984 while she was in charge (I got the grant).
Mrs. C. was a no nonsense person. She had a straightforward approach to life and a talent, as I saw more than once, to “cut through it” when a decision had to be made about PF affairs. At the same time she was not dogmatic. She was willing to listen to opposing opinions and was known to change her views, or at least to give a fair chance to other ideas. I remember seeing this process many times when Mrs. C. and her daughter Lisette discussed PF’s affairs. This was a hard-working mother and daughter team and their collaboration impacted profoundly and positively on the work of the Foundation for many years.
Mrs. C.’s practicality and sense of action manifested during a day of great crisis, the fateful day now referred to as 9/11. While some of us were almost paralyzed with worry as the situation unfolded (and remember we were all youngsters in her eyes), Mrs. C. had been in London during the Blitz at the beginning of the Second World War, when Nazi bombers terrorized the city night after night. She knew firsthand about the consequences of such crises on a city, so it was Mrs. C. who told us to stop watching the television and get to the grocery to make sure we had basic food and other supplies in case the island of Manhattan became cut off from the rest of New York. Fortunately there was no shortage, but when she spurred us to action, it was not obvious what would happen next, there was so much uncertainty all around us. Her first thought was to stay together, make sure we had what was needed, and then stay alert to the events unfolding around us. Just having a calm voice with a plan made a great deal of difference to all of us that day.
Many were the workers in parapsychology who benefited from her administration of the PF, particularly in the form of grants. Some of the grants processed during Mrs. C.’s time as President were bestowed on the who’s who of parapsychology in modern times, many of them before they became well-known. Among the recipients—taken from the Foundation’s annual report for 1978—were such individuals as John Beloff, James Carpenter, Irvin Child, John Palmer, William Roll, Rex Stanford, and Rhea White.
Mrs. C.’s work, sometimes invisible, was geared towards supporting the field in its scientific endeavors, a task she accomplished well and with modesty. Her contribution was recognized in 2001 when the Parapsychological Association’s granted her their Outstanding Career Award.
Many conferences were held under Mrs. C.’s tenure as PF’s President. Among them were, to mention a few: Parapsychology Today: A Geographic View (1971, St. Paul de Vence, France), Parapsychology and Anthropology (1973, London), Quantum Physics and Parapsychology (1974, Geneva), Psi and States of Awareness (1977, Paris), Communication and Parapsychology (1979, Vancouver), Current Trends in Psi Research (1984, New Orleans), Parapsychology, Philosophy and Religious Concepts (1985, Rome), Psi and Clinical Practice (1989, London), Women and Parapsychology (1991, Dublin), Parapsychology and Thanatology (1993, Boston), The Study of Mediumship: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2005, Charlottesville, Virginia), and Utrecht II: Charting the Future of Parapsychology (2008, Utrecht). I presented papers at three of these conferences (1984, 2005, 2008).
Publications under Mrs. C.’s administration included most of the PF’s magazine Parapsychology Review, and additions to the Parapsychological Monographs series of the PF. Some examples of the latter were Experimental Studies of the Differential Effect in Life Setting, by P. Sailaja and K. Ramakrishna Rao (1973), Methods and Models for Education in Parapsychology, by D. Scott Rogo (1973), The Application of Learning Theory to ESP Performance, by Charles Tart (1975), and Altered States of Consciousness and Psi: An Historical Survey and Research Prospectus, by Edward F. Kelly and Ralph G. Locke (1981, reprinted with a new introduction in 2010).
I asked Stanley Krippner to comment on Mrs. Coly. He emailed me saying: “Eileen Coly was a faithful and generous supporter of our field. She received a lifetime achievement award from the PA, and I dedicated a volume of Advances in Parapsychological Research to her. She was also delightful company. I will remember her sense of humor and her keen insights whenever I see her photo or read her name. I was honored to have been close friends with her mother and the blessings continue because of my friendship with her daughter. How many people have had the luxury of enjoying the companionship of three generations of dynamic, attractive, and brilliant women?”
Eileen Coly’s contributions to the advancement of parapsychology are undeniable and of a magnitude that my brief comments do not acknowledge properly. Those of us who met her will also remember, and miss, her quiet and charming personality, aspects that enriched our lives and that will not be forgotten.