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Posted November 3, 2003 

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 journey.

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.

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