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Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Psychoanalyst and Clinical Professor Elizabeth "Lisby" Mayer dies Jan. 1 at age 57

– Associate Clinical Professor Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, a clinician-scholar whose work ranged from groundbreaking theories on female development to her "coincidence theory" that explained seemingly unrelated events, died on New Year's Day. She was 57.

Mayer, known as "Lisby," was a clinical supervisor at the University of California, Berkeley's Psychology Clinic since 1983. She died in her sleep at her parents' home in Hanover, N.H., of complications from intestinal scleroderma, a rare disease she had for more than 15 years.

"Lisby was much beloved as a supervisor -- lauded for her deep knowledge of psychoanalytic theory and clinical interventions, her intellectual openness, her calm and positive attitude, her energy, and her commitment to the development of our students," UC Berkeley Psychology Professor Rhona S. Weinstein wrote in an e-mail to colleagues and students.

"She will be deeply missed by all of us who were blessed with the opportunity to engage in the learning process with her. We are all the richer for her contributions to us and our program," wrote Weinstein, the director of the Clinical Psychology Program and Psychology Clinic.

Mayer pursued an array of interests both professionally and personally. She was also on the faculty of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and was an associate clinical professor in the Psychiatry Department at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She authored more than 50 major articles, maintained an active private clinical practice in Berkeley, and lectured regularly.

"She caused other people to blossom," said Dr. Phyllis Cath, a close friend who is on the faculty of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute and is an associate clinical professor at UCSF in addition to having a private child psychiatry and psychoanalysis practice. "So many people attributed to Lisby a critical moment in which she determined a career choice or a life path. She helped people define themselves."

As a psychoanalyst, Mayer had a core interest in human connections and relationships, and was known for her influential revision of Sigmund Freud's theory of psychosexual development: Mayer argued that little girls -- as much as little boys -- valued their bodies.

"She truly was a superb model of a practitioner-scientist," Weinstein said. "She was much beloved because she was able both to theorize and to help teach students about this work from a very conceptually oriented way."

In recent years, she received wide acclaim after her "coincidence theory" was named by The New York Times Magazine as one of the "most exciting" new ideas in 2003. Mayer's interest in coincidence was sparked by personal interest: She had a family possession stolen and, on a dare, consulted a psychic 800 miles away who successfully told her where to find the object.

"She had the most active mind I was ever around," said Daphne de Marneffe, a clinical psychologist in private practice who had Mayer for a clinical supervisor in 1987 and went on to become a close friend. "She did 15 things at once, and it didn't fragment her. She felt the connections between all her activities, and when she was involved in a lot of things, she was at her best."

Mayer was also a musician and creative director of California Revels, an Oakland theater group that puts on a series of shows every year just before Christmas to celebrate the winter solstice with songs, skits and dances from traditions around the world. She produced a video series on music education with children that won the Parent's Choice Gold Award, the Coalition for Quality Children's Video "Best of the Best" Award and the National Association of Parenting Publications Award.

In 1995, she was named Alameda County's Woman of the Year for Arts and Culture.

"She was an amazing woman who was constantly striving and working both artistically and academically," said Dirk Burns, the managing director of California Revels. "She was ill for 19 years and yet managed to do all of those things -- she was just astounding."

Burns said Mayer loved the idea that Revels brought people together "to that village that everyone likes to talk about," and that the audience sings and dances along with the performance. Her death on the first day of a new year was particularly poignant in light of the Revels tradition, he said.

"One of the traditions in Revels is that Lisby would read a poem called "The Shortest Day" that talks about the solstice and the dying of the old year and the beginning of the new year," Burns said. "And she died in the new year."

Mayer recently received the Distinguished Analyst Award from the American Psychoanalytic Association. She was a fellow of the International Consciousness Research Laboratories at Princeton University, and a member of the research faculty of the Institute for Health and Healing at California Pacific Medical Center.

Mayer is survived by her daughters, Meg Renik of San Francisco and Byrdie Renik of New York City; her parents, David and Pamela Mayer of Hanover, N.H.; her sisters, Rebecca Mayer of Rehoboth, Mass., and Anneke Mayer of Dragoon, Ariz.; and her brother, Michael Mayer of Washington, D.C.

Services are pending, and the family asks that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to either the San Francisco Foundation for Psychoanalysis at 2420 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115 or California Revels at 337 17th St., Ste. 207, Oakland, CA 94612.