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Wayne Caron, counselor to families in pain

With notable compassion, the psychologist and professor helped people confronting chronic illness.

By Ben Cohen, Star Tribune

Last update: August 28, 2007 – 9:01 PM

Psychologist [Family Social Scientist] Wayne Caron left a trail of appreciation for his work to support family-centered care for people with Alzheimer's disease.

"Families across the Twin Cities have continually expressed their gratitude for the hope that he provided," said Dr. Robert Kane, a University of Minnesota professor and the director of the university's Center on Aging.

Caron, 51, died of a pulmonary embolism Aug. 21 in his St. Paul home. He founded the Family Caregiving Center at the university, earned his Ph.D. in psychology there, and had worked for at least 16 years with families who had loved ones suffering from chronic disease such as Alzheimer's.

"He was known for his compassion, caring and skill," said Kane, who added that Caron taught his students to deliver empathetic care.

Caron's method, based on research and family counseling experience, tells therapists and other health professionals to listen to families and learn from them. He was a proponent of including patients in family counseling sessions, said Carole Nimlos, of Vadnais Heights, who has taken care of her husband for 16 years.

"They do understand, though they can't tell you anything. They will remember the emotional part of you being there," she said. Nimlos said that the strain of being a family caregiver is encompassing, adding that "she couldn't imagine getting through the stress" without Caron's help and methods.

"He saved me," she said.

Adine Stokes, a licensed social worker who is the associate director of the center that Caron founded, said that Caron changed how she works with families.

"He taught us to learn from people and approach families in a way that we are learning with them," Stokes said. "The families have all the wisdom and knowledge, but need the most support."

At the time of his death, Caron was launching a program with the Veterans Hospital of Minneapolis, and was to become the lead therapist at the university's N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care.

"He was at the beginning of some really exciting projects in his career," Stokes said.

Caron graduated from New Hope's Cooper High School in 1974, earning his doctorate in family social science in 1991 from the University of Minnesota, where he had earned his bachelor's and master's degrees.

He co-authored the book, "The Family Journey," and was in demand to speak before health professionals' conventions. He was a senior lecturer and assistant professor in the university's Department of Family Social Science, College of Education and Human Development.

He is survived by his son, Christopher, of St. Paul; mother, Ruth, of New Hope; former wife, Pam Mitman, of St. Paul; brothers Dick, of Pontotoc, Miss., Dan, of Maple Grove, Jack, of Maple Grove, and Ron, of Crystal, and a sister, Linda Stull, of Maple Grove.

Mass will be held at 10 a.m. today at the Church of St. Raphael, 7301 Bass Lake Rd., Crystal, with visitation at 9:30 a.m. at the church.

Ben Cohen • bcohen@startribune.com