In Memoriam: Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross

It is with great sadness that the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) announces the loss of our beloved Advisory Board Member, Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross. For many years Dr. Ross served as an inspiring and deeply committed advisor to the work of AIPR, particularly through her support of the Global Raphael Lemkin Seminars, of our Africa Programs, of numerous events held in the New York City area, and, most recently, of the development of our training program for U.S. law enforcement on the protection of human and civil rights.

An unwavering force for positive change and towards the attainment of equal rights for all, Dr. Ross guided AIPR in its vision of building a world that prevents genocide and other mass atrocities. She wore many hats throughout her professional career, but to each and every one of her different roles she brought compassion, determination, a sense of humor, and, above all, a deep sense of kindness. She was a hospital clinical administrator, researcher, academic, public health consultant, forensic and child psychiatrist and public educator.

Dr. Ross was appointed in 2009 by then-Governor David A. Paterson as the Commissioner of the New York State Corrections Commission. Her tenure is marked by her steadfast determination to improve the state prison system and reduce incarceration rates through targeted outreach to, and care for, families of inmates, through mental and public health education in underserved communities and through policing reform. Dr. Ross believed in the concept of prevention, and so it was to our great benefit at AIPR to have her as a counselor and friend.

Dr. Ross was a mentor to many, inspiring the next generation of civil rights activists, doctors, civil servants, care givers, academics and dreamers. She was all of these things and more, never shying away from challenges or problems because they were too big. When Dr. Ross spoke of genocide, she spoke in terms of solutions – of ways to deter this process through the coordination of individual positive actions by stakeholders and their institutions. She believed whole-heartedly in the methodology employed by AIPR, and consequently served as a sounding board for many of the staff, helping us to focus on the preventive steps we can support through our alumni network.

I had the great pleasure of serving on the Social Services Board (SSB) of the New York Society for Ethical Culture when Dr. Ross was its Chair. I was the liaison between the SSB and AIPR, as the Board supported a number of AIPR training programs and events internationally and in New York City. During this time, I was privileged to spend many afternoons in her Upper West Side apartment talking about our work at AIPR and how it intersected with so many of her efforts not just on the SSB, but in her role as Commissioner and in her work as a psychiatrist. Dr. Ross was in the habit of making me feel as though no one could stand in the way of our mission because it is without a doubt true and effective. In those afternoons she would inspire me to always be the best version of myself. What a rare and generous gift that is, which I will try to live up to everyday.

– Ms. Samantha Capicotto, Director of Policy and Planning, AIPR

In recognition of the incredible life lived by Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation pledges to continue its efforts, both at home and abroad, in building a world that prevents genocide, the work that she so expertly guided. In particular, our new training program for U.S. law enforcement on the protection of human and civil rights will be dedicated to her memory and legacy. Dr. Ross’ knowledge and commitment to the betterment of our society will be deeply missed, but we will continue to do our part in furthering the excellent work to which she dedicated her life.

A funeral service will be held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (2 W. 64th St., at Central Park West, New York, NY) on Wednesday, January 25, beginning at 11:00am.