Richard Salem graduated from Antioch College in Ohio, a school first led by public education reformer Horace Mann, whose words, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,” are repeated each year at commencement.
Mr. Salem took those words to heart in his role as a mediator, traveling the country and world throughout a lengthy career with the U.S. Justice Department.
Mr. Salem, 83, who helped found the field of alternative dispute resolution and taught courses in mediation at Loyola University, died of complications related to a stroke on Saturday, March 22, in his Chicago home.
Formerly of Evanston, he had moved to Chicago in 2006 with his wife of 59 years, Greta, to be closer to family members.
“I was honored to work with Dick in the budding field of alternative dispute resolution during the early 1980s,” said Susan M. Yates, executive director of the Resolution Systems Institute in Chicago. “His life's work was about resolving conflict in respectful, meaningful ways, often between parties with very different amounts of power, where he would dive right in and help bring peace.”
Mr. Salem plied his skills in conflict resolution during many high-profile disputes in the U.S. and abroad, from Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to as far away as South Africa.
“When he turned 65, he was just getting started,” said his son, Peter, executive director of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in Madison, Wis. “His work had purpose and he made presentations and taught others in the field right up until the end.”
A native of New York City, Mr. Salem grew up in Queens, the son of a pharmacist. After earning a bachelor's degree from Antioch College in 1953, he spent two years in the Army before attending Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
He worked as a reporter for the Bayonne Times in New Jersey and The Washington Post, and as publisher of his own small business newsletter, before entering civil service as director of the U.S. Small Business Administration's Washington office, where he was responsible for implementing the programs of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.
In 1968, Mr. Salem was appointed Midwest director of the community relations service for the U.S. Department of Justice. He served as a mediator in 1978 after a neo-Nazi group threatened to march in Skokie, during the Kent State University dispute over construction on the site of the 1973 student shootings and for numerous police-community, prison, school desegregation and civil rights conflicts.
In 1973 he received a citation from President Richard Nixon for his mediation during the occupation of Wounded Knee, his son said.
“He was always focused on treating people decently, listening to what they had to say and understanding that when respect is given to everybody, that goes a long way,” his son said.
From 1979 to 1995, Mr. Salem made 15 extended trips to South Africa. He was a member of the initial training committee of South Africa's National Peace Accord and provided training for the accord's regional and local peace committees. He subsequently trained and consulted in six countries in East and West Africa, Northern Ireland and El Salvador.
In 1997, the State Department sent Mr. Salem to Rwanda as a trainer in resolving community conflict. While there he was deeply moved by the drawings of child survivors of the 1994 genocide and thought their stories needed to be told. That same year he published the picture book “Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda,” which included a foreword by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Those who emulate Dick's success in his field, or life in general, would be well-served to follow his example,” Yates said. “He was a smart, energetic, 'ideas' guy. Most important, his work was based on his core values.”
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Salem is survived by two daughters, Susanne and Erica; a brother, Eddie; and six grandchildren.
A celebration of Mr. Salem's life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Indian Boundary Park and Cultural Center, 2500 W. Lunt Ave., Chicago.