Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
Those of you familiar with the history of the Parapsychology Foundation (PF, click here and here) are aware of the rich heritage this organization has and of its contributions to parapsychology. Usually the emphasis of discussions about the PF is its founder, Eileen J. Garrett, and secondarily, with its second President, Eileen Coly.
My emphasis here, however, is on the organization’s third and current President, Lisette Coly (granddaughter of Garrett and daughter of Coly). I have known Lisette for many years. The first time I met her was in one of the Parapsychological Association conventions. My wife Nancy L. Zingrone and I worked for the Parapsychology Foundation (PF) since 1999, and we came to New York City to work at the Foundation when Lisette was its Vice-President and Mrs. Eileen Coly was its President.
Many were the projects Nancy and I worked on at the PF, some things we are still doing now. In the process, we greatly enjoyed the working relationship Mrs. Coly and Lisette had. I have written elsewhere about Mrs. Coly. Here I would like to place on record the great energy and creativity Lisette always showed, something that she continues to show to this day. There is no question that she is the moving force within the PF today, a force that keeps a balance between PF tradition and new developments, and that is sensitive to the ideas of those around her.
I think this interview is appropriate considering the recent anniversary of the PF. Readers will appreciate the achievements of the PF from an article all of us wrote together a few years back. I asked Lisette in the interview to comment on some of these aspects.
1. Please summarize the history of PF before you became President.
The PF literally started as a hypnagogic revelation when Eileen J. Garrett describes in her book, Many Voices, that on the periphery of sleep she heard a voice telling her to get well and build an edifice that would honor the subject that she had devoted her life. She set to work and in December 1951 the PF came to life. Its early days saw her trying to corral researchers and academicians from diverse disciplines to work in the science of parapsychology.
With a publications program and an international conference program and building the library that came to be named for her, I believe she did just that and over the years these programs have been augmented and for the most part exist today. For more information about the “wonders” of Parapsychology Foundation I would urge going to our main website.
2. How did you start working at the PF.
It surprises me that I have in hindsight spent my lifetime at PF while immersed in parapsychology. The immersion is understandable having grown up in my grandmother Eileen J. Garrett’s orbit. As a child and teen the house was invariably full of Garrett’s friends and associates such as Eric Dingwall, Aldous Huxley, Emilio Servadio, never forgetting PF’s co-founder, the Honorable Frances P. Bolton, who was like a second grandmother to me.
Frequent visits to the then PF offices at 29 West 57th Street while growing up cemented cherished life-long relationships with others such as Drs. Lawrence LeShan, Ian Stevenson, and the Rhine family. My attendance and later coordination of our then annual PF international conferences afforded me the benefit of good counsel and revered friendship with Drs. Charles Tart, William Roll, Robert Van de Castle, Stanley Krippner, and with so many others that I have been fortunate to count on for support as I grew to maturity and assumed greater responsibilities.
While at university I was interested in pursuit of a career in the diplomatic service but had my head turned by sojourns and travels with Garrett in Europe and in the South of France at the then PF European headquarters at Le Piol in St. Paul de Vence the home of many of PF’s international conferences.
She urged me to leave my classes and take business courses and hone secretarial skills and then with those tools at hand just dig into something that interested me. Garrett seemingly set her net well as I became ensnared by my own interest in the field and recognition that the PF was of value. Garrett envisioned me to be of assistance to my mother, Eileen Coly, who she worried might well be left “holding the bag” in administering the PF at her death with an eye to PF’s continual operation.
I started on staff as the Editorial Assistant but in reality was the grunt of the office in February 1969 with a myriad of chores such as manning the PBX telephone board—if anyone remembers that relic—as well as taking dictation from Garrett and Allan Angoff, along with tasks such as library book shelving, filing and stamping mail, all the while working the mimeograph machine and, more often than not, covered in purple ink.
At Garrett’s death in 1970, stating always that I was leaving in six months-time, I realized the value of my education as I was trying to hold my own with academicians and researchers the world over and hence went on to get my BA from Hunter College while working at the PF. Those were early heady days for me getting to know the leading lights of parapsychology and personalities such as Salvador Dali and assorted other visitors vying for face time with Garrett. In retrospect perhaps I did assuage my interest in international diplomacy albeit in parapsychology.
3. How would you describe the work that EJG and EC did at the PF?
To answer that question I think it easiest to view the body of work that each accomplished while leading the PF along with a comparison of their personalities which is very telling. Eileen J. Garrett was the flamboyant multi-faceted trance medium, author and entrepreneur who with her magnetic personality was able to not only draw people to the subject, but thanks to our co-founder Frances P. Bolton’s generosity, to support her vision not only for the organization but truly for the entire field. I have heard her described in a multitude of ways referred to as “catnip” or as a python who, once in her presence, rendered her audience positively groggy and eager to join what for her was a crusade to have psychical research taken out of the murky often suspect séance room and out into the clean air of scientific exploration. She was on the vanguard of parapsychological research coming out of post World War II’s aftermath and she set the agenda and tone for what PF would grow to become.
My mother, Eileen Coly, came to serve as President in l970 at the death of her mother, in the midst of the flowering of the so-called Occult/New Age Movement which was problematic to say the least. As Eileen Coly often laughingly remarked, creative whirlwinds, referencing Garrett, are exciting and dynamic but incredibly messy to clean up after. I believe it took my cool, unflappable and highly practical mother to calmly take the reins and set PF on a secure and structured path. Impartial, as the PF holds no corporate views, Coly was intensely interested in the plight of our researchers who for the large part are sadly unfunded and unrecognized. At heart she was most interested in education, both academic to grow the future of the science, but also education to inform the public at large, who is often misled and confused by misrepresentations as to what the psychic world and parapsychology really define, to promote a better understanding of the psychic elements inherent in our lives.
These two highly individual personalities not only benefited the growth and continuance of the Parapsychology Foundation but also my own attempts at leadership, as I have been able to draw upon their diverse leadership styles and skill sets while currently managing the organization. Eileen Garrett certainly gets the credit for creating PF, but Eileen Coly who served as our President much longer than our founder, is the one who has done the most to support the field during her tenure. Both Presidents held fast to the mission of the PF which I myself attempt to maintain.
4. What do you do as PF President?
Simply put I do a little of everything and act as the guardian of the PF flame. Whereas it is understandable that I would seek to continue a tradition maintaining the organization established by my grandmother as in justifiable pride in a family endeavor, I am at heart committed as those who went before me to get answers to the questions raised by psychic functioning that continue to elude us. In finding if not answers at least a greater understanding of the psychic elements in our lives, it is imperative that our researchers, academicians and students of all rank be supported if not purely financially but in any manner open to us.
Following the financial reverses which very nearly saw the demise of the organization in 2008 I was forced to cut back drastically and very regretfully on our programs. A difficult time, in hindsight, it was productive to be forced to really examine our past and determine where and how to best lead the organization in the future. Technology has played a large part in the changes in “how” the PF continues our mission of remaining a worldwide forum for the exploration of psychic phenomena, but the founding vision remains true.
It is a labor of love, well worth the effort, to maintain the Garrett Research Library in Greenport, New York. It is difficult but rewarding for me to drive the two hours to Greenport from New York City to open the facility to inquiring minds by appointment and to continue to grow the already extensive collection. The summer months are easier as I maintain a home on the North Fork with the library hours extended. I have found that our patrons, students and researchers, in being forced to focus their energies due to time constraints of availability benefit from a more intense use of the facility.
As I am continually searching for financial support, should the Foundation’s financial health improve, it would be our intention to expand access to the library. The advent of electronic communication has improved our outreach with our constituents tremendously. The ability to provide immediate feedback is a big improvement from my early days at PF while waiting for the US Postal Service. Making connections and contacts for our constituency is much easier and more immediate, which was not the case years back when people had to travel to visit. Now by pressing “send” they are able to benefit from the PF’s longstanding position as a clearinghouse for quality information.
I have had a large learning curve to appreciate and assimilate the online potential for education and conferences. PF and I owe massive amounts of gratitude to Research Fellows, Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone and Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado who literally have pushed me kicking and screaming into the internet while holding my hand literally and figuratively as I now grasp its potential for PF’s future activities.
5. What have you accomplished recently at PF?
During PF’s celebratory 65th anniversary in 2016 I was primarily concerned with the overhaul, reinstatement and rededication of PF’s programs as well as the addition of new directives. Our revered Perspectives Lecture Series, which was launched in 1998, is now back on occasion in real time and on the internet. We have formalized our PF Lyceum Academy on the WizIQ Platform. Our PF International Affiliate program is thriving having held two recent Affiliate conferences (click here and here ), with Dr. Dean Radin added to its roster representing the USA. We have launched a new online program, “PF’s Book Expo”, (click here, here, and here) having sponsored three such events to date.
In addition, we are sponsoring a parapsychology MOOC, and various forums on interest. All of these events are free.
Our social media presence is growing with our PF Facebook page and that of our Psychic Explorer page along with Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Our five websites are being slowly converted to mobile ready access and being retooled to be more user friendly.
We have formalized both a Research Fellow program with current Fellows, Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado, Dr. Kathy Dalton, Dr. James Matlock, and Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone, and added a Research Associate program in which we were pleased to welcome Gonçalo Veiga. I am extremely proud to have introduced PF’s YouTube Channel which we have been adding to on a weekly basis posting a treasure trove cache of Classic Perspective Lectures, Face to Face interviews and the recordings of our various Book Expo presentations, Lyceum Forums and conferences –to date totaling over 70 items (for an already dated progress report click here).
6. What are your plans for the future of PF?
Plans for the future of PF are to stay the course set back in 1951 and to continue to offer quality information, direction and support for those interested in parapsychology around the world. I am most proud to announce a modest return to our Scholarship and Award program later this year, as without support of newcomers to the field parapsychology’s future will not shine bright. The PF You Tube channel will be augmented with more of our classic materials but also with new series such as “PF on the Move” and others in development.
I am enthused to welcome a fourth generation to PF which was not envisioned to be a family foundation but seems to have evolved as such. My daughter, Anastasia Damalas, is presently serving her apprenticeship in much the same way as Eileen Coly and myself were introduced to the field. She is bringing her skills in social marketing and film to the benefit of PF. She too understands as I do the enormous body of work that has gone before us coupled with a deep appreciation for our colleagues and students of the paranormal. We pledge to rededicate in this our 66th year to the advancement of parapsychological research and ask for your support.