Joseph Jackson Downing. M.D. 1924 - 1993


A man of many talents and interests, Jack always had a foot both in the establishment and in the newly created worlds around him. He was on the cutting edge, often challenging the status quo in his kindly elegant way. As Chief of Medical Services in San Mateo County, near San Francisco, he introduced LSD therapy for alcoholics in the early Sixties before it was illegal. He maintained professional associations with such groups as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Public Health Association, among others, while becoming a founder of the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco (1967), the ARICA Institute, and The Center for Healing Arts in New York City.

I met Jack in 1961 at the San Mateo Community Hospital. Then again at Esalen Institute with Fritz. He and I founded the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco in 1967 and taught together on and off for more than twenty years. While dedicated to the Gestalt world he found time to explore everything that fascinated him -- all connected with healing the spirit, as well as the mind and body. He coauthored Dreams and Nightmares: A Book of Gestalt Therapy Sessions with Robert Marmorstein and he edited Gestalt Awareness: A Collection of Essays on the Many Faces of Gestalt Therapy. He spent many hours working to legalize the drug ecstasy for use in research, acknowledged in the book Ecstasy by Bruce Eisner; he wrote numerous articles; he gave talks and conducted many workshops -- and he constantly participated in the beginnings of many innovative programs. He played and enjoyed life with his family, his five wonderful children and his friends.

Gentle, kind are the words that come to me most often about Jack. . . . . And what I remember him saying so often at the Gestalt Institute was "We've got to turn the program over to the younger generation." "It's important to keep getting new blood in the program." These statements he said around the time of his leukemia diagnosis back in the early Eighties. He was right. And yet, I wonder if he was also talking about the new blood he needed too. (I don't recall Jack ever complaining or asking for much for himself.)

Eventually, nine years later, his leukemia resulted in lymphoma, which cost him his life. Surrounded by his daughters, his partner, Trish Pomper, and dear friends, Jack, after a blood transfusion wouldn't take, said: "This is a good day to die." Chanting began and, five minutes later, Jack had departed.

He left memorable impressions with many people -- colleagues, friends, clients and students alike. He embodied the "I-Thou" relationship with everyone; he touched and was touched by many. He followed his curiosity and constantly pushed open new doors to discovering his potentialities and helping others to discover theirs. He lived many of the Gestalt principles he taught. And he had a very big heart.

I miss his sweet elegance.

* This unknown quotation was etched by Jack into the beam above his cabin door.

Cyndy Sheldon
Gestalt Center of Sedona and Flagstaff

Return to The Gestalt Therapy Home Page