In Memoriam: Mary L. Tenopyr (1919 – 2005)

APS Fellow Mary L. Tenopyr died November 30, 2005 at the age of 76 after a long illness.

Mary L. Tenopyr was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on October 18, 1929, and grew up on a farm in Braceville, Ohio. Mary attended college at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in February of 1951 and a master’s degree in August, 1951. She completed her PhD at the University of Southern California in 1958.

Mary held a number of positions in private industry and the government and began her professional career as a psychometrist in the testing and counseling bureau of Ohio University. She soon moved on to a position with the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and later Mitchell Field in Hempstead, New York in test development and research. After her marriage to Joseph Tenopyr in October, 1955, she took a job as the head of employment testing for North American Aviation, Inc. (later Rockwell International). Next, Mary held a position on the research faculty of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Los Angeles, and then moved to Washington, DC, where she worked for the U.S. Civil Service Commission. In 1972, Mary accepted a position at AT&T where she remained until her retirement.

Throughout her career, Mary blended the best of the science and practice of employment testing. Her legacy to industrial and organizational psychology is her repeated demonstration that good testing practices make for good business. She demanded scientific rigor while insisting on efficient practice. Outspoken, Mary refused to entertain questionable standards, research methods, or instruments. The testing programs Mary designed, built, and maintained remain a model of good employment testing practice.

Mary influenced many through her work and her professional contributions. She was a major contributor to the 1978 Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) because of her work in the Ad Hoc Industry Group on Employee Selection Guidelines. She was a member of all four of the committees that wrote the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures, and remained active in SIOP until her death. She served as President in 1979-1980 and President of Division 5 of the APA (Evaluation Measurement and Statistics) in 1994-1995. She was chair of the Equal Employment Advisory Committee’s Ad Hoc Committee on Employee Selection for many years and guided the organization’s commentary on professional standards such as the Principles and the Standards for Educational and Psychological Tests. She has acted as an adviser on testing and selection for the U.S. Department of Labor and served as a consultant for the State of California Fair Employment Commission.

SIOP also recognized Mary with two of its highest awards, the Distinguished Professional Contributions Award in 1984 and the Distinguished Service Contributions Award in 1991. Mary was a Fellow of APS, SIOP, and APA.

It would be impossible for those of us who work in the field of employment testing to forget Mary’s many contributions. Her influence on the field will surely live on many years. Yet what I will miss the most is Mary herself. Rarely have I met a more caring person. She celebrated our successes as well as our disappointments. She sent me flowers when I was elected President of SIOP and flowers when my dog died. After her retirement, she regularly monitored the Weather Channel so she could warn me of bad weather or check with me to see how bad it really was.

She was vitally interested in the careers of many, even those of us who did not work directly for her. Her second job throughout her career was shepherding young I/O psychologists and ensuring that we held firmly to scientific principles while we created effective testing programs for our employers. When the Bell System broke up in 1984, Mary’s tests were dispersed to all of the Regional Bell Operating Companies and, despite her own workload, Mary adopted the psychologists in these now independent companies and ensured we had all the information we needed to carry on her selection testing program.

Everyone who knew Mary has a story, usually hilarious, about her. Mary loved to laugh — and laughed at herself most of all. I once heard Mary on a panel recounting her own career and providing career advice to young I/O psychologists. I never knew sex discrimination could be so funny. Nor did I realize how much courage was required to achieve what Mary did in the 1960s and 1970s.

Characteristically, during the illness that eventually claimed her, Mary laughed at her situation. The hospital in which she spent many days had once employed a nurse who had murdered a number of very ill patients and she often told me she had to stay awake “to keep the Angel of Death” from giving her “the bitter pill”.
Mary had many interests beyond industrial and organizational psychology. She read widely and was well informed until the end. She was an inveterate clothes shopper and frequently provided tips on how to hide purchases from one’s spouse. She once told me she took 400 blouses to the Goodwill Store but didn’t know how to claim the donation on her income tax return without letting her husband know. She and her husband loved animals and adopted many dogs from their local shelter. Those dogs always knew who kept treats on her desk.

Mary’s husband, Joe, died shortly after Mary. They are survived by one dog, Penny, who has been well provided for.
The SIOP Foundation has created the Mary L. Tenopyr Scholarship Fund, which was funded by a substantial gift from Mary’s will and augmented by gifts from Mary’s friends. The fund will provide scholarships to deserving students of industrial and organizational psychology.

Nancy T. Tippins
Valtera Corporation

A Force to be Reckoned with at EEAC
When the Equal Employment Advisory Council (EEAC) adopted the “Ad Hoc Group on Uniform Selection Guidelines” in 1981, Mary Tenopyr, a leader in that group, came along. The Ad Hoc Group was a set of dedicated I/O psychologists who shared serious concerns about the practical workability of the UGESP and had published, under the auspices of the American Society for Personnel Administration, A Professional and Legal Analysis of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, which we still use as a reference today.

Within EEAC, the group became the Ad Hoc Committee on Employment Selection, and Mary served as its chair. By the early 1990’s, the Committee was no longer “ad hoc” but firmly entrenched as a key component of EEAC’s work promoting sound approaches to the elimination of discrimination in employment. Now made up primarily of in-house I/O psychologists at EEAC member companies, the committee advised EEAC on a number of important projects, including several rounds of comments on the 1999 revisions to the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing as well as amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) briefs on important testing issues. Mary, still the committee’s chair at the time, carried the lion’s share of the burden, answering innumerable questions from EEAC’s staff; translating input from psychometric tests into either legalese or English as the project required; and reading, editing, and rereading drafts until they met her exacting standards.

Somewhere along the way, Mary also became teacher, mentor, and friend. She was always willing to listen, to explain, and to share her wealth of knowledge, experience, and sound judgment with those who needed her help. But as I learned to know her, I also came to respect and appreciate her kindness and thoughtfulness, both to the people who made up her vast army of colleagues and to the needy animals who received her constant care and support. For that reason, it is perhaps on a personal level that I miss her the most. As often as I wish I could still call her with testing questions, perhaps even more often I think of a story involving a homeless pet rescued and wish I could share it with her.

I know the I/O community mourns Mary’s loss as a pioneer in her field. What the community may not know is that she will be greatly missed by many of us outside of that community as well.

Ann Elizabeth Reesman
Equal Employment Advisory Council

The Difference-Maker
This essay is based on a 23-year friendship and working relationship with Mary. She hired me into AT&T in 1982 and I worked with her for the next 15 years. Following her retirement, we remained close until her death.

To borrow an expression from sport, Mary was a difference-maker. And it was no accident. She was deliberate and disciplined in her determination to elevate her science and her practice. Certainly her professional leadership helped sustain the integration of research and practice we enjoy in industrial and organizational psychology. She directly influenced the standards of her profession and the guidelines that govern employment processes and outcomes. The fact that the governance and the science of our profession are as consistent as they are is, in large measure, a reflection of Mary’s effort.

She also made a difference on a personal level for many who knew her and for thousands who did not. Literally hundreds of thousands of employment applicants who never knew her received fair and equitable treatment from the rigorous processes she put in place. While she was notoriously intolerant of injustice and unfairness on a broad scale, she was also caring for those around her who had suffered. Not the least of which were her beloved dogs, all of whom were rescued from dire situations. Her human friends were constantly reminded through phone calls and emails that we were important to her.

She was not swayed by fad or fiction. She was a true scientist. For her 25 years at AT&T, she achieved the remarkable result that employment selection processes were defined by research results far more than they were by the popular press.

Most knew her as a firm-minded, self-confident, out-spoken professional, which she certainly was. But she came by these attributes through a remarkably self-aware determination to build these strengths on the foundation of a spare, sheltered childhood and an inequitable struggle against many forms of discrimination in her early career. She was a person of remarkable self-insight, drive to succeed, and sensitivity to the needs of others. She never lost the humility it takes to prepare well even if she attained the self-confidence necessary to deliver.

On a more personal note, I was one of many who benefited from Mary’s care and support. She spent many hours providing detailed feedback on clumsy drafts of validation reports and technical documents, while at the same time offering constant encouragement and support. She was especially fond of supporting young graduate students who worked in her organization. It is no surprise, then, that she established a scholarship fund to encourage the professional development of young professionals.

For all her tenacity and self-discipline, Mary loved to enjoy herself. She delivered and welcomed jokes — good and bad alike. She was renowned for entertaining speeches and sharply witty ad libs. She loved jazz, jewelry, dogs, and the Atlanta Braves. But most of all, she loved her profession and the people in it. She will be greatly missed.

Jerard F. Kehoe
Selection & Assessment Consulting

A Trailblazer
Mary Tenopyr came from a time when one could count the number of women members at APA Division 14 (SIOP) meetings before running out of fingers, but that division and the profession took up the better part of her days. What’s more, being a “minority” in our ranks never intimidated her or kept her from her mission. In fact, she relished being called a tough old broad and the title was always rendered with great respect. Mary also had a unique sense of humor to say the least, but censors would make us leave most of her best shots out.

I worked with Mary on developing professional guidelines, principles, and standards, and on numerous association boards, and welcomed and enjoyed every opportunity to do so. If there is a sadder note other than that she’s no longer here to urge us almost daily to always do the right and fair thing, it’s that so many of those who survive her will never really know how much she did over the years to preserve our profession — she did it quietly and without worrying who got the credit. I will miss my very dear friend and her “How are ya?” calls, but am very grateful that I was lucky enough to have Mary’s path cross mine.

Frank Erwin

What a Gal!
I was one of the lucky people who had a chance to work with Mary on several fronts. We were together on APA Council, the SIOP Executive Committee, the SIOP Standards Committee, and the ePredix Technical Board. She also hired me to consult on biodata items for AT&T for all of one day, which may have been her form of appraisal.

Mary was always funny, perceptive, and firm in her opinions. In every meeting I ever participated in with her, she contributed a sharp analysis of the problem and some sort of solution, sometimes outrageous at first glance, but worth another look upon consideration. She could also derail a meeting by suddenly interrupting with a new topic totally off the subject under discussion, requiring considerable effort and charm from the chair to get us back on track.

Sounds pretty negative, doesn’t it. Well, it isn’t. I’d take any interruptions to have the chance to listen to her ideas and proposals, and to hear her incomparable wit. She was not only bright, she was funny! Very funny! And also very thoughtful. On top of all that, she was up-to-date even in her last days. She read the journals, various news magazines, several newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, and all the national and state psychological newsletters. Late afternoon was her favorite time to call. “Paul? It’s Mary.” Such identification was totally unnecessary, as that gravelly voice could belong to no one else. It was time for the latest news bulletin on some outrageous action of APA Council, the EEOC, or the courts, or it might be a request to get involved in a new battle — and “No” was not an acceptable answer.

I loved knowing Mary, her brilliant mind, and all her quirks. What a gal!

APS regularly opens certain online articles for discussion on our website. Effective February 2021, you must be a logged-in APS member to post comments. By posting a comment, you agree to our Community Guidelines and the display of your profile information, including your name and affiliation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations present in article comments are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of APS or the article’s author. For more information, please see our Community Guidelines.

Please login with your APS account to comment.