WestEd is mourning the loss but celebrating the memory of Paul Hood, our dear colleague and friend who helped establish and guide the research and systems work of our organization since its inception. Paul passed away at the age of 94 at his home in Alameda, California. Always a voracious learner and analyst — on topics ranging from research methods to astronomy and cooking — Paul was the epitome of a lifelong learner who, as one colleague put it, “never stopped being curious.” In his early 90s, he took a course on quantum physics, and to the end of his life, he remained current with world and national issues, including education. He also remained close to WestEd, his professional home for more than half a century.
After earning his PhD in social psychology at the University of Ohio in 1953, Paul spent his early career directing a number of research and development programs for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, the Ohio State University Personnel Research Board, and the George Washington University Human Resources Research Office. Most of the work related to professional learning and scenario planning. For example, his Air Force research in the early 1950s focused on training for survival, escape, evasion, prisoner-of-war conduct, POW camp organization and leadership, and counter-interrogation. In the course of his military work, he once had to participate in wilderness survival training that entailed procuring his own food. As he later related to a friend, that’s how he came, for the first and last time, to eat porcupine — which he characterized as “not bad” (and which may have led to his enduring interest in cooking).
In 1966, Paul joined WestEd’s predecessor agency, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development (FWL), as one of its first employees. He served as its first Chief Program Director, setting direction and standards for research excellence that would guide us for the future.
At Far West and then WestEd, Paul found his life’s work, becoming known for his keen research acumen; his expertise in systems design, knowledge utilization, and education technology; and his ability to synthesize and identify trends and their implications for teaching and learning. His official titles evolved to include Director of the Educational Dissemination Studies Program, Director of Planning and Evaluation, Director of Strategic Planning, and, most recently, emeritus Director of Institutional Planning. Toward the end of his years at WestEd, he added the informal title of education news aggregator. At least five days a week, Paul had already reviewed a broad range of news media, distilled anything related to WestEd’s work, and emailed his daily “news” column to his grateful followers by the time most of his colleagues were probably having breakfast.
Paul’s institutional knowledge is irreplaceable, as is his historical perspective on education and learning in this country and elsewhere. One WestEd board member refers to Paul as “an elder statesman and wisdom keeper for WestEd.” But for all that he knew and brought to the table, Paul himself was intrigued by what he didn’t know. He always kept an eye on the future, fully engaged by the idea of what was still to come, a characteristic that led one colleague to comment on Paul’s persistent interest in “seeing around the next bend in education — twists and turns be damned.”
For anyone working closely with Paul or simply listening to one of his presentations, it was impossible to ignore his exceptional mind, described by another board member as “able to mine … many different streams of thought and consolidate myriad strains of information to create meaning.”
Among WestEd staff, Paul is also remembered for his commitment to excellence and the generosity with which he engaged with colleagues to strengthen their work and to strengthen WestEd as a whole. He was quick to remind us that our job is to improve systems, address inequities, and work our way out of current issues. Paul led multiple agencywide initiatives to debrief, learn from, and continuously improve our work, as well as numerous quality assurance efforts. He was equally keen to help individuals hone their own thinking, leading one colleague to recollect him as “a brilliant, kind, and generous soul who eagerly reached his hand out to others to pull them forward.” An informal mentor to many, Paul was a sought-after reviewer of research proposals and reports, providing feedback that was as constructive as it was candid. WestEd’s annual Paul D. Hood Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Field, established in 1999, is named in honor of all that Paul accomplished and contributed — to the field, to WestEd, and to his colleagues.
Paul formally retired from WestEd in 2015 and then served as a consultant for the agency through 2020, performing environmental scans and analyses of education, demographic, social, economic, political, and technological trends that affect WestEd and/or our clients. Paul was known widely throughout WestEd as a thought leader and as someone always eager to jointly explore issues and ideas. His characteristic chuckle, willingness to learn, and earnest embrace of new colleagues and ideas helped create a vibrant sense of community and a future-oriented learning culture. As WestEd CEO Glen Harvey notes, “Paul was very much a beloved member of the WestEd family — a generous guide, mentor, and model scholar with a long-lasting legacy.”