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Subject: Mel Roman, Psychologist

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Date Posted: November 17, 2002 12:45:27 EDT

Doctor Mel Roman, a psychologist and artist who drew on both fields to try to bring about social change, died Nov. 9 at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 75.

The cause was complications of colon cancer, his family said.

For more than three decades, Dr. Roman was director of group and family research in the psychiatry department of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. He was a strong proponent of community mental health programs to encourage people to seek help by putting therapists within easy reach.

He wrote three books about the family and was known for advocating fathers' rights and for his belief that joint custody should be the legal norm in divorce cases. He appeared periodically on the "Today" program on NBC to discuss family issues and other topics.

Even associates who praised his work in psychology said Dr. Roman's real love was in the art that he began exhibiting in the 1950's. His works included paintings, sculptures and installations. When he was given emeritus status by Albert Einstein in 1987, he was able to shift his focus.

"He had been a longtime psychologist-artist," said Dr. Gilbert Levin, a friend and colleague at the college. "And in 1987 he became an artist-psychologist."

Two years later, Dr. Roman moved to Scottsdale, where he worked on his art full time and was chairman of the Cosanti Foundation, a planned community outside Scottsdale developed by the architect and philosopher Paulo Soleri. Dr. Roman was also active in Arcosanti, an experimental community designed to be in harmony with the environment. Dr. Soleri has been working on the experimental community, 65 miles north of Phoenix, since 1970.

Dr. Roman's art was deeply political, in keeping with his background. Born and raised in the Bronx, he earned a doctorate from New York University and traveled to Mississippi in the 1960's to help in the civil rights movement. After his first marriage ended in divorce and he was not permitted to see his daughter as often as he wanted, he became a vocal critic of the routine practice of awarding custody to the mother and wrote a book titled "The Disposable Parent."

"Divorce is not the death of the family," The Washington Post quoted him in 1981. "Where children are involved, it is the reorganization of the family. That is not a small point. Parents are parents forever."

Dr. Roman was a resident artist at the Institute for Studies in the arts at Arizona State University. In 1996, he took part in an exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum that featured the American flag and set off public protests. In work by other artists, the flag was stretched out on the floor and shown draped in a toilet bowl. In Dr. Roman's installation, the flag was blackened, ragged and stuck in an inkwell of a school desk, The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix reported.

Dr. Roman said, "The flag is dirty to show the shame or guilt of our nation in terms of the education of our children."

A more recent exhibit, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," took an interactive approach to privacy and sexual orientation, using mirrors to engage the viewer. "With these pieces," Dr. Roman said, "it's impossible to see the work without seeing yourself as part of the equation."

Dr. Roman's second marriage, to Jo Roman, an artist, ended in 1979 with her public suicide. Long a proponent of planned suicide, Ms. Roman, who had cancer, participated in a documentary film about her preparations, "Choosing Suicide."

Dr. Roman is survived by his third wife, Louise Roman of Scottsdale; his daughter, Lisa Kappaz of Oak Park, California; his stepson, Eric Shoemaker of New York; and his brother, Richard of Toronto.

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