DeSisto School Founder Dies
He Changed the World, One Teenager at a Time
Contact: The DeSisto School, 413-298-3776
Frank McNear, Executive Director, ext. 122
Lynn Mazur, Director of Marketing, ext. 160
Saturday, November 1, 2003, STOCKBRIDGE, MA -- A. Michael
DeSisto, nationally renowned educator, and gifted therapist
has died at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Mr. DeSisto, 64, who had undergone successful kidney transplant
surgery on Tuesday, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on Friday,
which took his life today.
Born in 1939 in Boston, he grew up in W. Roxbury, Mass.
He redefined conventional therapy of adolescents and he was
the creator of the DeSisto School in Stockbridge, Ma. He
dedicated his life to helping families and troubled kids
get through difficult times. Michael was known for his innovative
approaches to personal change and mental health, especially
with those struggling through the turbulent years of adolescence.
He had trained and worked as a therapist at a number of
schools and residential treatment centers in New York and
elsewhere. He had an extraordinary sense of what made teenagers
tick and, beginning in the 1960’s, demonstrated such
an ability to achieve rapport with them and to help them,
that a group of parents of his students pooled their resources
to found a school in 1978 in Stockbridge, Ma, to which they
gave his name.
The school, a therapeutic community and prep school, numbers
former students and graduates in the thousands. It served
as a place where new methods to help troubled teens were
developed. These ideas led to both controversy and innovation
in education, treatment, family therapy, and the juvenile
justice system. DeSisto’s approaches to drug abuse,
eating disorders, sexual acting out, and other addictions,
helped many families reconstitute themselves and helped many
young people transform their lives from self-destructive,
violent and even criminal activity to healthier behavior.
He also loved music, dance and performance and as a part-time
impresario, created a cabaret venue at the school where students
waited tables while performers such as Margaret Whiting,
Nancy Lamott, Karen Mason, K.T. Sullivan and Jeff Harner
filled Berkshire summer evenings with song and melody. The
artists returned annually to give Master Classes to the students.
He created a Dinner Theatre Series where students took roles
in revivals of Broadway musicals. Some of these were taken
on tour. “Hair”, for example played to stunned
and delighted audiences in the former Soviet Union. And he
produced and co-wrote an Off-Broadway musical, “Inappropriate,” culled
from stories of students’ lives, their despair, pain
and rage, and performed by students from the school. The
production was a critical success in New York and elsewhere.
In all this, he created hope and growth. He helped students
who had risked angry self-destruction take the healthy risks
of theatrical performance or serving dinner properly to a
table of Berkshire tourists, or playing in a rock band called “Misguided
Youth” on a trip to communist China.
Michael possessed a remarkable vitality and openhearted
spirit. He loved life and while a deeply spiritual person,
his search for understanding and inspiration was not a tight-lipped,
ascetic, solitary one. He embraced people and did whatever
he could to help them, often inviting them along on his spiritual
He understood pain and fear and shared his courage with
others. His honesty about his own life and personal struggles
gave hope and heart to those around him to face and transcend
their own fears and risk change. In the last few years, struggling
with kidney failure, he kept his sense of humor as he integrated
daily home dialysis into his busy routine.
His passion, his love of life, good humor and his unflagging
belief that we can all help each other change our lives for
the better never left him.
He is survived by his wife, Margie Bullock, his sister,
Jacque, his sister-in-law, Elaine, his nephews Joseph, Stephen,
Peter and Michael, his grandnieces and nephews Courtney,
Nicole, Michael, Devan, Kristen, Peter and Nicholas, and
many friends and former students.
Friends may call at Roche Funeral Home, 120 Main St., Lenox,
on Tuesday, Nov. 4, from 4 to 7. Burial will be private and
at the convenience of the family. In lieu of flowers, those
who wish may make donations in Michael’s memory to
the A. Michael DeSisto Memorial Scholarship Fund in care
of the funeral home.