Many people in Derry will be saddened to hear of the recent death in Seattle of Lou Tice, a man who touched many lives in Derry and Northern Ireland.
He visited three times - first in September 1988 when the City Council allowed us to host him in its former Rialto Cinema. The Troubles were still active.
To get to the city centre you had to go through security checkpoints. Deserted after 6pm, the city was down at heel, with plastic bags blowing on the barbed wire fences. Lou and Diane Tice came as guests of NORIBIC Business Innovation Centre of NW Regional College.
NORIBIC had heard of Lou Tice and his Pacific Institute from the Galway Innovation Centre, which in turn had discovered his work when it was brought from America by the large Digital computer plant in Galway.
We didn’t really know what we were arranging that day in September ‘88.
“Just get a hall and let Lou talk”, our Galway colleagues advised.
“One man speak to a full hall all day!”, we queried.
“Yes,” replied Galway, “and it will be the best day you have had in five years!”.
And so it was. By break-time, participants were phoning friends urging them to come to the Rialto.
Why was this? Lou shrugged off any suggestion that these were his own theories: “I’m just a translator”, he would say. “I talk to the leading psychologists in the world to learn what they are discovering about how we humans act; how we relate to other people; how we can be more effective; how we can achieve more of our potential; how we help others to achieve their best potential. Then I just translate this into ordinary stories; I just take the academic research and show what it means to our daily, normal lives”.
Back then in the Rialto in 1988, Lou was the first person I ever heard use the phrase “self-esteem”. Now to have self-esteem is a commonplace aspiration. But Lou and Diane then went on to show how to achieve this. How we can be positive or negative. How negativity drags us down and positivity opens doors and opportunities.
“It’s not rocket science”, they would say. “We can open up to new ideas; or we can shut them off. We can believe in ourselves; or we can allow others to put us down. We can aim for our best potential; or we can settle for less”.
1988 is 24 years ago. It’s easy now to forget just how saturated with negativity Derry and Ireland was then. Twenty years of deliberate death and destruction; of planned confrontation and violence; of entrenched doggedness and refusal to compromise. There was no expectation of any immediate end to the political violence.
This was ten long years before we finally all agreed to make the great communal concessions of the 1998 Good Friday Belfast Agreement that brought us to the present foothills of a normal society.
The personal development programme of Lou and Diane’s Pacific Institute is used by almost two-thirds of America’s Fortune 500 companies - and also has a ‘pro bono’ side for use in communities coping with problems, whether among gangs in Los Angeles or teenagers in South Africa.
Its benefits so impressed Northern Ireland’s DoE Permanent Secretary Ronnie Spence that the programme was made available to all 8,000 members of that Department. From there it spread to Jackie Redpath and the Shankhill and further afield. When I first met Lou, he was in discussion with a professor from the University of Texas and with Dr Glenn Terrell, President of Washington State University - so I felt that whatever Lou was doing, it appeared to be academically respectable.
It certainly was. He studied and questioned leading university academics of cognitive theory such as Dr Albert Bandura, Stanford University; Prof Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania; and Dr Gary Latham, University of Toronto.
One key person in bringing this work to Derry was that wonderful Omagh man, Pat Given, who arrived back here in the company of Lou. A schoolteacher, Pat moved into Industrial training with the National Coal Board in England and then became head of training for the 12,000-strong South of Scotland Electricity Board.
Pat certainly knew education and training. In terms of Lou’s work, he said that he had never come across a training programme that better engaged the intellect and the emotions. He had personally put 8,000 staff of the SSEB through the programme when he came to retirement age.
The Board Chairman asked Pat to stay on in order to provide this training for the remaining 4,000 staff. But Pat said he wanted to make the programme available for people in Northern Ireland.
And so he said to NORIBIC: “Just get some people together and I will run the course for them”.
So we held a whole series of training courses in The Little Theatre, Orchard Street. Then Patrick Breslin managed the training. Then Frances O’Kane. In the end we reckoned that up to 10,000 people in Derry, or from the Derry base, across the island, had followed some or all of the training programme.
I know that he changed our own way of thinking. Several local schools that used the programme saw a change in their staff’s attitudes and their pupils’ self confidence. In one local college one of those DoE trainees ran the course for 6th formers.
The empowering just goes on and on.
With his lifelong partner Diane, Lou Tice was truly remarkable and this community is greatly indebted to him for his time, his generosity and those simple, invaluable, empowering insights.