Published On: Fri, Jun 7th, 2019

Even in Death, Dr. Merrilee R. Middleton Will Impact Lives

Dr. Merrilee R. Middleton

Boca Raton, FL – As a psychologist, Dr. Merrilee R. Middleton pushed for mental health services for young people.

And even in death she wants to continue research to find a cure for mental illness. Dr. Middleton, a pioneer in local mental health Counseling and founder of Boca Raton’s Promise, died peacefully around 4 pm Wednesday with friends and loved ones by her bedside.

It was such a beautiful moment, Rita Thrasher, a long time trusted friend, protégé, caretaker and current president & CEO of Boca Raton’s Promise, told me. She had been in Hospice care for at least two weeks.

At Dr. Middleton’s wish, her brain and cornea will be harvested for research.

Dr. Roz Rice from the Association for Community Counseling in Delray Beach called Dr. Middleton “the inspiration and backbone” of the organization.

“It was founded because of Merrilee, as those involved could not imagine not continuing her work or not working with her,” she wrote in an email. “She still is our anchor, smoothing out rough spots, giving supervision with wisdom and patience, our guiding light.”

Untold numbers of people’s lives have been changed for the better and enriched through Dr. Middleton and the work of those she continues to inspire, Rice continued.

“Merrilee is the valuable gem thrown into a pool of life experiences. The ripples created continue to expand affecting each volunteer, each client worked with, and each intern passing through our midst,” she wrote. “We cherish her and love her and wish to thank her for being herself and sharing herself with us.”

“Doc” was at the onset of recognizing and acknowledging the importance of stress in the lives of children. This was long before we appreciated how long-lasting the effects of trauma are in early life and adolescence.

As she organized and executed peer counseling programs in Palm Beach and Broward counties, Dr. Middleton saw how the students were learning to work together and to better understand themselves and others.

In the 1960s and 1970s, she worked to advance the concept of peer counseling for teenagers — the idea that support groups led by peers rather than authority figures would be most effective for young people in need of guidance.

She launched a very significant preventative concept when she taught high school students to essentially say to their friends, ‘I’m worried about you . . . I’m concerned. I miss the old you.’

Back then, the notion that kids were pretty resilient, that they could take things and bounce back, was quite common. But she helped us, over time, to realize how formative those years are in long-term emotional health, and how those early years chart the course for somebody’s life forever.

“She wanted them to be connected and listened to,” Thrasher said. “She wanted them to become guided. It’s up to the youths to listen to their peers. You must utilize their talents, their skills.”

A native of Hazelhurst, Georgia, Dr. Middleton earned a BS in Business Education from Stetson University. There, she and Faulk assisted Dr. George Hood in creating Stetson’s first counseling center.  Her skill for listening compassionately followed her as a guidance counselor at Fairfax High School in Virginia where she was encouraged to seek advanced studies.

She continued in academia earning a master’s from Peabody College in Nashville, where she was invited to membership in Peabody’s Business Honor Society which led to an internship at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

One of her highlights was completing requirements to be listed in the National Registry for Group Psychology as a Certified Group Psychologist.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held in two weeks, Thrasher said. The time and location will be announced.

C. Ron Allen can be reached at or 561-665-0151.


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