Stephen R. Wallace, 73, of Providence passed into eternal life on July 26, 2021, at Philip Hulitar Hospice Center. Steve was the loving husband of Jacqueline (Miller) Wallace. He was born in Pawtucket, the son of the late Thomas Wallace and Jane (Flynn) Wallace. Steve was a clinical social worker with a diverse and appreciative clientele. Through five decades, he practiced psychotherapy from his office in Providence.
Steve leaves his daughter Elizabeth Mansfield, her husband Joseph, and granddaughter Abby; his brother Earl Wallace; his sister Marilyn Tretton and her husband Jack; and several nieces and nephews. Steve was predeceased by his brothers Edward and Walter Wallace.
Steve received his bachelor's degree, with honors, from Providence College, Class of 1970, and his master’s of social work from Simmons University shortly thereafter.
A loyal and generous alumnus of St. Raphael Academy, Class of 1966, Steve encouraged young men and women in his circle to apply to the school and in at least one instance paid their way. Saint Ray’s was almost always a topic of conversation, and Steve credited the school –– its ethos, faculty and student body –– as being the major influence in his moral and intellectual development.
Ever the inquiring mind, Steve was a serious reader with a wide range of interests. A long time subscriber to several newspapers, he perused and evaluated news and opinion pages daily. Steve brought a firm grasp of current events plus timely analysis to conversations he orchestrated in his living room –– Fats Waller, Brubeck or Bob Dylan, among others, playing softly in the background, wisps of cigar smoke hovering aloft. Steve valued a good conversation more than anything –– a good laugh, fine food and Cuban cigars in a three-way tie for second.
Steve’s love for a thoughtful back and forth was born and nourished at St. Ray’s, especially during English and religion classes taught by Brothers Michael McKennery and Brother William Mueller.
Another influential class was American history, taught by Brother Peter Barnes. The mid-sixties were an era of considerable political and social turmoil –– the Vietnam War often at the center of the debate. Steve was fully engaged on that topic, and he fortified his understanding of contemporary events by supplementing standard textbook offerings with a deep dive into Morrison and Commanger’s History of the American Republic –– a suggested text that Steve alone adopted as his own. No surprise that Steve was awarded the History Medal his senior year.
While at Providence College, Steve was mentored by Professor Rene Fortin, director of the arts and honors program, and for whom Steve held a lifelong reverence and gratitude. Dr. Fortin favored seminars, and Steve was, no surprise, a passionate participant. The literature he read and the lessons he absorbed were an ongoing wellspring for Steve’s intellectual life. They also served as useful points of reflection for his therapeutic work.
Unconventional and eclectic in his thinking, Steve often supplemented therapy sessions with quotes from a variety of authors studied in Dr. Fortin’s seminars –– Melville, Hawthorne, Twain and Malamud, to name but a few. Steve had a unique capacity for synthesizing seemingly divergent disciplines to support a unifying theme, be it a therapeutic aid or conversational talking point.
At the same time Steve was seeing clients in a therapeutic setting, he taught several courses in Providence College’s departments of psychology and social work. The format and curriculum for Steve’s classes were a reflection of his commitment to dialogue, critical thinking and universal human concerns. The classes covered psycho-social development across the lifecycle, and Steve approached the topic from a variety of interesting angles.
A lifelong learner who embraced the totality of human experience, Steve engaged his students with a cross section of materials borrowed from literature, the arts, the NY Times, comic strips, and psychology textbooks as well as peer-reviewed articles from the social sciences. Emulating Dr. Fortin, Steve conducted his classes in seminar fashion. As an experienced therapist he was uniquely suited to solicit thoughtful comments from his students and promote spirited interaction among them. For several years running, students voted Steve best teacher in the department. Teaching and learning were at the core of Steve’s being and if he had his wish, he would have remained a college professor forever.
His teaching career on hold, Steve made his clinical practice the sole focus. In addition to counseling sessions at his office, Steve saw the need for outreach to the elderly confined in nursing homes. Often written off as not the most ideal candidates for therapy, Steve nevertheless went the extra mile. He did “home” visits, often bringing his clients their local newspapers and lunch as ways to develop a relationship before engaging in serious matters of the mind and heart. Steve was a strong advocate for the vulnerable, a role completely in keeping with Catholicism’s ethos to perform corporal works of mercy and live a life in service to others.
A fervent practitioner of the therapeutic arts and sciences, Steve made a notable contribution to the field as lead author of Clinical Social Work in Health Care: New Biopsychological Approaches. Written while Steve was director of social work at RI Hospital, several schools of social work assigned the book to aspiring clinicians, and little wonder why. The book offers detailed examples of client / clinician interactions commonly experienced across the therapeutic landscape. Steve’s book explores the nuances of communication and subtleties of patient-therapist engagement while charting a path to a productive outcome from the initial session to the last. Clinical Social Work in Health Care was among Steve’s proudest achievements because it serves as a teaching tool as well as a testament to the empathetically rendered and precise craftsmanship he practiced as a psychotherapist.
Attempting to somewhat emulate his tradesman father’s impressive skillset, Steve became a serviceable handyman in mid life, repairing his homes and adding fixtures as well as landscaping his backyard and laying the foundation for an outdoor jacuzzi. Steve also learned to sail and became quite adept, one breezy summer day cleanly maneuvering his 24 foot sloop into the docks of congested Newport Harbor and returning it to its Wakefield mooring without incident. A true-blue fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and Notre Dame football, Steve taped every game and watched them later, fast-forwarding through the commercials. Treasured solitary walks at Swan Point Cemetery were a daily practice and Steve’s quiet time for exercise and reverie.
Steve and Jackie met while working at Butler Hospital. She was head nurse on the West Unit and he a rookie milieu therapist. Despite the depth of his theoretical knowledge, Steve was continually amazed by –– and appreciative of –– the practical expertise Jackie derived from years of clinical experience and spot-on intuition. Steve regularly consulted with her on matters concerning his private practice. For 30 years, Jackie was a community-based psychiatric nurse at The Providence Center, building a well-earned reputation of her own.
Steve and Jackie loved to entertain, specializing in lobster dinners while regaling guests with all manner of stories and laughter. They loved the seashore and all that came with it. The ideal summer day was spent reading at Matunuck or Galilee, followed by dinner at Champlin’s or George’s. In the fall they vacationed on the RI beachfront and in the NH mountains. Through the winter they were each other’s best company in their comfortable Eastside home.
The aging process comes with inevitable physical challenges and Steve and Jackie were not spared that fate. Nevertheless, the difficulties brought them even closer. Steve singlehandedly cared for Jackie through her travails with great love and devotion. The challenge to Steve’s health was not as easily recognizable. His intellectual brilliance, excellent organizational skills and affability began to gradually ebb over an indeterminate period of time. Ultimately, complications of dementia led to his death.
On August 29, 2021, Steve and Jackie would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
At his family’s request, internment at Swan Point was private.
Anyone wishing to honor Steve’s memory may make a donation in his name to St. Raphael Academy, 123 Walcott St. Pawtucket, RI 02861.