Mark Doolittle, who spearheaded far-reaching community counseling programs that for years have provided support for some of Sonoma County's most underserved communities, died Sunday of cancer. He was 65.
Doolittle, a professor emeritus of psychology at Sonoma State University where he spent nearly three decades in the counseling department, is credited with launching and maintaining multiple community counseling programs that linked students earning counseling licenses with people who might not otherwise have access to services.
"He said, 'This is a basic human right. Everyone deserves this,'" said Amber Era-McGarvey, who studied under Doolittle and worked with him for years. "There was really no free counseling. It was a pretty big resource."
Doolittle started and ran a free counseling clinic at Sonoma State that operated for 19 years before it was shuttered in 2012 by school officials worried about liability. The program served about 300 people at any given time and provided students with clinical experience under the guidance of professionals.
"He wanted all of us to have access to free supervision so we didn't have to pay more money for our licenses," Era-McGarvey said.
At the same time, Doolittle linked up with a fledgling anti-truancy program launched by four Santa Rosa Rotary clubs. By 1994, the program's target had widened beyond truancy to address underlying problems in students' lives.
Doolittle volunteered his time to run the Support Our Students (SOS) program that linked Sonoma State counseling students with elementary and secondary students and their families. The program now stretches across Sonoma County.
"He was phenomenal; he did this program with no pay," said Nancy Aita, a past-president of Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary, which, along with the three other Santa Rosa Rotary clubs has for decades raised funds to support the program.
Providing struggling kids a trusted adult who was not linked to the schools was key, Aita said.
"It helped with what those kids needed: somebody they could trust. If they said something it would be taken the right way and not used against them," she said.
In 2002, Doolittle was given the community service award from the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County for his work with the Community Counseling Center.
Born Aug. 10, 1948, in Seattle, Doolittle was the oldest of three children born to Wilma and Jim Doolittle. The family eventually moved to Sonoma County where Doolittle was valedictorian of his Healdsburg High School class.
He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Washington before moving south to earn his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.
His first marriage, to Judith Sears, ended in divorce.
Doolittle was a talented tennis player and golfer who would never miss a Moody Blues concert if he could help it, said his wife, Barbara Doolittle of Santa Rosa.
"He would see them anywhere, anytime," she said.
But his focus always remained on his students and the community they served, she said.
"He was a mentor to hundreds of students," she said. "He was such a generous person with his time and money."
Aita said the programs Doolittle promoted will continue to serve.
"He is going to be very badly missed; his energy, his commitment, his knowledge. He really had everything," Aita said. "You can't quite exactly replace Mark Doolittle."