Caryl Rusbult - Memorial Tributes

I (her brother) made this page to explain why so many of us – colleagues, friends, and family – loved and admired her.
Although many people — family, friends, and colleagues, even strangers who were touched by her work — feel sad that her life ended too soon, Caryl would say "don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."  She chose to end her memorial program with a poem (Afterglow by Helen Lowrie Marshall) encouraging us to remember "the happy times and laughing times, the bright and sunny days" because she wanted to "leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done."

  In her professional work as a social psychologist, Caryl studied the most important part of human life – personal relationships.  My favorite part of her work was her studies of the Michelangelo Phenomenon, when we see one person (a spouse, lover, friend, family member, teacher, counselor,...) help another person improve, helping them “sculpt themself” — analogous to Michelangelo's Actions when he worked with a piece of stone to create a beautiful work of art — so they will more fully develop their whole-person potentials and achieve their goals for life, so they will become a better version of themself, the person they want to become.     { You can feel the personal value of lovingly beneficial Michelangelo Actions in "Love" by Roy Croft:  "I love you, not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.  I love you, not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me." }     My sister studied this, and she lived it by helping others become better;  Madoka Kumashiro, her student & colleague, and friend, tells us why Caryl Rusbult was The Epitome of the Michelangelo Phenomenon in Action.

 Many others agree:


  • In Memoriam: In life and death, a scientist brings out the best in others – relationship scholar Caryl Rusbult's colleagues mourn her loss and celebrate her scientific legacy.
  • In Memoriam (by Paul van Lange, the day after her death),
  • In the Pursuit of Science – a tribute by Eli Finkel in Personal Relationships,
  • Interdependent with Caryl Rusbult – another tribute in Personal Relationships,
  • obituary-abstract in American Psychologist (journal of American Psychological Association),
  • Happy Marriage Is ‘Me’ Marriage (re: Michelangelo Effect) by Tara Parker-Pope
        and a web-search for [caryl rusbult michelangelo]
        and my thoughts about helping others achieve their goals
          using empathy + Golden Rule to make Life(s) Wonderful,
  • a web-search for [caryl rusbult investment model]
  • Social Psychology Network & Wikipedia &,
  • Close Relationships – a book she co-edited, and wrote for.


  Obituary for Memorial Service  (Anaheim, California – February 6, 2010) 
  The main music chosen by Caryl for her memorial service:
  What a Wonderful World — by Louis Armstrong — (mp3 & youtube)
  I'll be Seeing You — by Etta James (mp3 & youtube) originally released on Caryl's 42nd birthday;
        plus other versions by Etta James and Billie Holliday.
 A powerpoint of photos, made for this service, might be available later.


 Here are two tributes for Caryl, in her memorial service.  (easy-to-print pdf files, for Norma and Craig)
 Unfortunately, nobody recorded the great talk (with many loving memories) by her husband, David Lowery.
from Norma Price, her best friend:
from Craig Rusbult, her brother:

A Remembrance of Caryl


When I was 12, I started junior high here in Anaheim.  Most of the faces were new to me.  I remember one in particular – a freckled girl with long brown hair and bangs.  I thought she looked interesting, and wanted to get to know her.  And so we became friends, and our friendship continued for close to fifty years.

We spent hours together throughout junior high, at school, at the shops outside Disneyland, at the movies, roaming around downtown Anaheim.  Her family's house was a warm home base for us.  We had the same favorite TV shows, and made fun of the same songs on the radio.  She was clever and cheerful and fun.

One summer, Caryl's parents invited us to go camping in Yosemite.  Since we were cool teenagers, we thought maybe it would be more fun to stay home, but at the last minute we changed our minds.  It was a wonderful vacation.  The long days and summer nights in Yosemite were magical.  We hiked, floated in inner tubes down the frigid Merced River, hung out on the bridge, and whiled away the days.

We attended different high schools, but school district boundaries were permeable for us.  Our social life together continued at parties, at high school football games, at impromptu gatherings with friends.  Our standard hangouts were not the mall, nor a diner, but rather the front lawns of friends, where we would simply gather like birds flocking from perch to perch.

In our early college years, a house on Crescent Street in Anaheim became our hangout.  This house was so large that it accommodated numerous roommates.  Legend had it that the roommates sometimes barbequed inside the cavernous living room.  With these friends, we became avid concert-goers.  Back then, you could actually get reasonably priced tickets to acts such as the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and the Allman Brothers, and we attended as many as we could.  We also experimented with more sophisticated pastimes.  One evening we all went to a local art house to watch a French New Wave film that we had learned about in a film studies class.  Most of us fell asleep about a quarter of the way into the film which probably meant that we weren't yet sophisticated enough for the New Wave.


Our paths diverged when Caryl went to UCLA and then on to graduate school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I visited her in Chapel Hill and later traveled to Kentucky for her wedding to David.  By now, Caryl was on the faculty at Kentucky and was graduate advisor to a young man.  He and Caryl compared notes and discovered they each knew an unattached person in Southern California who might be compatible.  So Caryl gave my phone number to her graduate student, who passed it along to his brother, who is now my husband and father of our daughter.

Caryl and David joined the faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill, and later took positions at universities in Amsterdam.  Two years ago, I spent a week in Amsterdam at their home and got a glimpse of their lives in Europe.

In between visits, I would receive the most marvelous letters from her, pages and pages that painted pictures of her life for me.  From junior high, through high school, college, and her professional life, her circle of friends grew wider and wider, and her heart expanded to welcome new friends while she cherished her old friends.  Even as we pursued our separate daily lives, I knew I was tucked into her heart, as she was in mine.  This past week, as I was contacting old friends to tell them of Caryl's passing, more than one told me that Caryl had come to mind just recently.  And talking to each of the old friends made me realize a fundamental truth – Caryl was simply unforgettable.  She had friends throughout the world and they all mourn her because her friendship made an impression on their hearts.  Her many friendships are a testament to her joyful and loving nature.

In this life, she got to the finish line first.  And that has caused me great sadness, but because I have faith, it is a sadness I can bear.  I will close with a prayer that I first came across a number of years ago.

I beg you, Lord,
Help me accept the partings that must come –
From friends who go away,
My children leaving home,
And most of all, my dear ones
When you shall call them to yourself.
Then, give me grace to say:
“As it has pleased you, Lord,
to take them home,
I bow to your most holy will.
And if by just one word
I might restore their lives
Against your will,
I would not speak.”
Grant them eternal joy.


My Sister


I love my sister, and I admire her.  Here are a few of the many reasons.   [note: The bold reminded me to emphasize these parts - with pacing, loudness,... - while speaking.]

It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite movie, partly for the art (the interesting dramatic story, skillful writing, acting, photography) but mainly for the message:  each of us affects other people, and life is better if we affect them in ways that help them become better people and enjoy their lives more fully.

Caryl wanted to do this, and she was able to do it.

Much of her skill in doing this was natural — she had a good heart, and intuitive understanding of people — and then she improved her natural abilities by devoting her life to the scientific study of people and our relationships with each other.  This is a worthy goal, and she did it well.


Professionally, her career was impressive.  She got her PhD in less than 3 years (that's very fast) and then got tenure at Kentucky after 3 years (also fast, 2 years shorter than the usual time) and she continued from there with diligence and enthusiasm, in a productive career as a scholar and teacher.  She was highly respected by her colleagues, and they also liked her, and many even loved her.   Here are some phrases from a tribute written by a colleague at the Free University in Amsterdam:

she was “a dynamic creative thinker...;  committed energetic researcher...;  she enjoyed sharing and giving;  was an exceptional teacher and a beloved mentor who conveyed her passion for learning with warmth and dedication...;  she knew how to bring out the best in others.”


Caryl was also respected and loved in our family, for many reasons.

One was in 1994 when we had a big party to celebrate my mother and father loving each other for 50 years.   The celebration required lots of planning and action, and during this process our leader was Caryl.  She did much of the work herself, was mediator when necessary, or simply made wise decisions herself at all levels, for the “big picture” and important details.   During the process she was goal-oriented (by asking “what is needed, to make it a great party”) and also people-oriented (“hey, let's have fun while we're working on this together”).

Two years later, Caryl and David visited Amsterdam for a few months, and she wrote letters telling us how much they enjoyed living there.   In vivid word-pictures she showed us their apartment near the lively heart of the city, looking out on a beautiful canal with lights on the bridges, snow on the ground, people skating on the ice.   And she shared her insightful observations about the Dutch people and their culture;  she compared it with American culture, in a way that was honoring for both, by explaining why she liked the people and their cultures in both places.   {her letters}


Eight years later in 2004, Caryl and Dave continued their adventure in Amsterdam by moving there.

Then in 2007 they helped me have a grand adventure in Europe, continuing their tradition of being gracious hosts, generously sharing their house, money, and valuable time, for eating, walking, talking, ... having fun.   Whether it was in Kentucky or Chapel Hill, or later in Amsterdam and Rome, they shared their enthusiasm for life with me, as they have with so many other visitors.


I'll end my comments the way the program ends, [here I showed the back of the printed program] because it's the way Caryl would want us to think about her life and death: "I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done."

Along with you, I'm sad that she is gone, much sooner than we expected, but my memories of Caryl will be about a wonderful life she filled with joy, in work and play, in her adventures with many interesting people and places.  I'll remember "the happy times and laughing times, the bright and sunny days."



History of Us – live and love today
I sent this message on December 9, 2009,
7 weeks before she no longer was with us:



Often, when I listen to History of Us (by Emily Saliers) I think about you.  I like the song for its music (the melody, harmony, and rhythm, plus her singing style,…) and the many interesting ideas in its lyrics.  Beginning each chorus is a main theme: “so we must love while these moments are still called today.”

It seems to me that you have done this well throughout your life, LOVING people and also LIVING fully each day/week/year by combining an adventurous attitude with many wise decisions, as in your determination to get a degree from UCLA (not Cal State Fullerton where you began for practical reasons), take a year off to work and play, then hit the ground running to get a PhD in less than 3 years (I'm still impressed by this, and usually include it when I'm bragging about you) at the beginning of an academic career — as a researcher, writer, and teacher — that has been extremely productive and impressive.  And in the personal area, you said “yes” when you found a good man to love (and love you) and together you made a wonderful life in Lexington & Chapel Hill, and then together you decided to leave this comfortable familiarity for the exciting new adventures of Amsterdam.

If one key to living well is to live-and-love each day, while it's today, I think you've done this very well.

with love, from your brother,


P.S.  Maybe you have this song already.  If not, tonight on the web I temporarily put an mp3 file [opened by the link in 2009]* I bought, and the lyrics are below. [* youtube with beautiful graphics)   Also, Sunday night I told Mom & Dad that I would be doing this, and sent them (plus Nikki) a draft of this email before they left, so they would know about it during their trip to visit you.
History of Us
I went all the way to Paris to forget your face
Captured in stained glass, young lives long since passed
Statues of lovers every place I went all across the continent
to relieve this restless love
I walked through the ruins, icons of glory
Smashed by the bombs from above.
So we must love while these moments are still called today
Take part in the pain of this passion play
Stretching our youth as we must, until we are ashes to dust
Until time makes history of us.
Jeu de Paume's full of faces knowing peace, knowing strife
Leisure and toil, still it's canvas and oil
There's just no medium for life
In the midst of the rubble I felt a sense of rebirth
In a dusty cathedral the living God called
And I prayed for my life here on earth.
So we must love while these moments are still called today
Take part in the pain of this passion play
Stretching our youth as we must, until we are ashes to dust
Until time makes history of us.
There are mountains in Switzerland, brilliant cold as they stand
From my hotel room, watching the half-moon
Bleeding its light like a lamb
And the town is illumined, its tiny figures are fast asleep
And it dawns on me the time is upon me
To return to the flock I must keep.
So we must love while these moments are still called today
Take part in the pain of this passion play
Stretching our youth as we must, until we are ashes to dust
Until time makes history of us.


This page was assembled by Craig Rusbult, brother of Caryl, during his life on a road less traveled.     {and tributes for our father}


Photos from a Memorial Celebration for Caryl Rusbult in Amsterdam - March 5, 2010:
building woman & window
audience from back man speaker
woman speaker audience from side
reception man speaker