James Madison University

A Social Work Pioneer with Connections

In SOWK 287: Introduction to Social Work students learn about the profession’s pioneers each semester under the direction of Dr. Laura Trull.  In the spring term students develop posters of pioneers participating in the Phi Alpha Honor Society Poster Session as part of the annual social work celebration in March.  Professional pioneers are recognized by the NASW Foundation and posted on their website (naswfoundation@naswdc.org).

One pioneer has a special connection to the social work program.  Harold Lipton, MSW, MBA is the grandfather of current student Haley Lipton who was a student in this course.  Haley completed her poster assignment focused on her grandfather.  She stated knowing a lot about her grandfather but learning even more about him as a social worker.  “He always told me stories, but now they have more meaning.” 

Mr. Lipton graciously traveled from Delaware with his wife Lenne Lipton to speak with the class, sharing his wisdom of over 40 years of service in the areas of medical social work, group work and service to Veterans.  Mr. Lipton shared practice stories to help the students learn how important it is to treat clients with respect and positive regard.  He talked about the concept of “tuning in” in preparation for working with clients and how this preparation is necessary for effective engagement with clients.   He told stories of starting out his career and learning what worked in a tough inner city neighborhood and how he learned to work across differences, though he had not anticipated this would be a job task early in his career.

Mr. Lipton received his MSW from Columbia University School of Social Work. His professional career is the exemplification of all levels of social work practice – work with individuals, groups, organizations and communities. He worked at the VA hospital in the Bronx, facilitating groups of Vietnam War veteran returnees and assisting with discharge planning for those with extensive spinal cord injuries.  As Director of Social Services at four hospitals in Washington DC, Ohio and California, he developed groups for parents of children with cancer, established emergency room social work services, established a child abuse prevention center run entirely by volunteers, developed and served on the hospitals’ ethics committees, trained EMTs/paramedics, created support groups for persons living with HIV and their families, and supervised social workers across hospital programs including psychiatry.  Mr. Lipton provided free mental health care to firefighters and families dealing with the World Trade Center attacks establishing a group for new widows. He participated in policy analysis and strategic planning on behalf of the units he served by participating in Congressional and White House hearings related to Medicaid.  Mr. Lipton was an active member of NASW serving as president in 2008.

Recently, Mr. Lipton was a recipient of the Knee/Wittman Health and Mental Health Award recognizing outstanding achievements and significant contributions in the fields of health and mental health. The Knee/Wittman Award Program was established to recognize those who represent the values, ethics and approaches exemplified by two dedicated social work pioneers, Ruth Knee and Milton Wittman, who guided the development of social policy and standards.

Haley is excited to follow her grandfather into the profession and is proud he is a social work pioneer.