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1936 Rodney Williamson Napier 2024

Rodney Williamson Napier

July 15, 1936 — April 6, 2024

Rodney Williamson Napier, age 87, passed away on April 6, 2024 surrounded by the love of his three daughters, his granddaughter, his son-in-law, and his ex-wife.  Rod was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 15, 1936. His childhood was spent in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Evanston, Wilmette, and Barrington, Illinois, and briefly outside of Toronto, Canada. Rod’s father, James Patton Napier moved the family quite a bit, and eventually rose to become CEO of the Oxford, England division of the Neilson Company, a position he held until he passed away in 1973.

 Rod was active in sports as a boy and then in high school, going on to co-captain the football team at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He also ran track, did the long jump, and played ice-hockey, a sport he claimed earned him credibility while his family lived in Canada. Sports were always important to Rod, and he was religious about his physical fitness. Until just a few months before he died, he had a strict daily workout regimen.

Rod loved college life at Carleton and spoke fondly of the camaraderie and the snow. He remained friends with his roommates and their families and became an active member in Carleton’s Alumni activities. It was at Carleton where he met his future wife, Sandra Folzer. 

After graduation from Carleton, Rod became a reservist in the US Marine Corp, doing his basic training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was proud to be a marine and applied the resilience he learned there to most facets of his life; he didn’t tolerate whining or hand wringing and believed people were their own greatest change agents.

In 1959 Rod and Sandy married. Together they attended the University of Chicago where Rod earned his master’s degree in counseling. Upon graduation in 1961, Rod and Sandy joined the African American Institute and traveled to Ghana, West Africa where they taught at the Okuapeman Secondary School in Akropong, Akwapim. Rod taught Geography and coached athletics. While in Africa their first child, Michelle Amma Oye, was born in 1963. The name “Oye” was given to her by the local chief at a special “Outdooring” ceremony.

After living in Ghana for two years, Rod and Sandy moved to Madison, Wisconsin where Rod attended the University of Wisconsin and earned a doctorate in behavioral studies. In 1965, during their time in Madison, a second daughter, Laura Denise, was born. Upon graduation Rod came to Philadelphia to teach at Temple University where he helped create the Psycho-Educational Processes or PEP Program, a graduate school program that included courses in group dynamics, leadership and group management, and Organization Development. His third daughter, Victoria Josephine, was born in 1967 after the family moved to Wyncote, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Rod earned tenure at Temple (1965-1977), where he was a popular professor, mentoring countless graduate students; many who went on to be successful consultants, teachers, and thought leaders. He was and will be remembered for his insightful perceptions. He was good at recognizing people’s skills and helping them to develop them. While at Temple, he published his seminal book, Groups: Theory and Experience, with Maddie Gershenfeld. It remains a classic text in the field and will soon be published in its 8th edition.

During this time, he and Sandy became involved with the National Training Laboratories (NTL) where he continued to hone his keen group skills and became a consulting member. At NTL he worked with some of the other great leaders of the time in Organization Development, including Charlie and Edie Seashore, Ed Benne, and Joseph Luft.

Rod left Temple in 1977 to form his own management consulting firm, The Athyn Group, along with some colleagues and former students. The Athyn Group originated the use of 360-degree feedback and allowed Rod to pioneer the process of executive development using feedback. Later he formed The Napier Group (TNG). 

Rod valued giving back and doing good. Early in his career he worked with the Pennsylvania Advancement School to help create positive change for urban students and teachers. He continued to partner with schools and non-profits including Greenpeace, Outward Bound, and the Center for Change, where in the early 90’s he participated in a week-long event where social change activists and grassroots organizations working on social justice, racial equality and women's issues came together. The result was a book, Grassroots and Nonprofit leadership: A Guide for Organizations in Changing Times, co-authored with Berit and George Lakey, and Janice Robinson. 

Throughout his life, Rod had a love of teaching. He created and taught, “Leading and Facilitating Team Dynamics” to hundreds of leaders across the US and the world as part of Becton Dickinson’s BD University (2005-2010), taught Executive Team Dynamics and Physician Leadership at the Wharton School (1995-2002), and co-founded the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate program in Organizational Consulting and Executive Coaching (OCEC), “telling it like it is” (2005-2019). He helped create and was the co-director of the Temagami Wilderness Experience in Ontario, Canada, and he developed and was the co-director of the Group Leadership Intensive (GLI), a program for leaders interested in developing diagnostic, design, and intervention skills.

Rod was a successful consultant and, in much demand, both nationally and internationally. In 1973 he and his family were invited to South Africa to work with blacks and whites during apartheid. They had to use a ruse to enter the country whereby both Rod and Sandy presented papers at the South African Psychological Conference. While there, they conducted clandestine workshops on Conflict Resolution, Personal Growth, and Group Dynamics with interracial groups. On occasion the family was followed by government agents. Prior to that, Rod and Sandy led groups in Mexico during Rod’s sabbatical from Temple for the University of Guadalajara. They moved the family to Chapala, Mexico for six months and returned the next year to conduct more workshops.

Rod helped create the first cabinet in a post Sandinista Nicaragua for a new democracy with the Chamorro administration. He also worked with the government of Bangladesh and in organizations in Chile, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Canada, Ethiopia, Russia, Finland, Germany, and Israel. He partnered with higher Ed institutions including Cornell University, Wellesley College, and the University of Virginia to develop leaders and create more collaborative cultures.

He remained a much sought-after consultant until a few years before his death.

Rod may be best known for his many publications, which, in addition to those previously mentioned include:

High Impact Tools and Activities for Strategic Planning co-authored with Clint Sidle and Patrick Sanaghan (1998)

Intentional Design and the Process of Change: Strategies for Successful Change (Published by National Association of College and University Business Officers, or NACUBO) co-authored with Patrick Sanaghan (2001)

The Courage to Act Factors of Courage to Transform Business with Merom Klein (2003)

Measuring What Matters: Simplified Tools for Aligning Teams and Their Stakeholders co-authored with Rich McDaniel (2006)

Not Just Another Meeting: Creative Strategies for Facilitation with Eli Sharp (2019)

Rod is survived by his three daughters; Amma Napier and son-in-law David Smith, and Laura Napier and son-in-law Doug Claybourne, and Tori Valadao Napier, as well as his granddaughters Annika and Marlena Napier-Smith and Marea Claybourne-Napier. He is also survived by his sister Joan Napier of Lawrenceville, NJ and San Antonio, TX.

He was predeceased by his father James Patton Napier and his mother Gladys Williamson Napier.

A private Celebration of Life will be held for family and close friends and colleagues.


Additional publications:

Wad-Ja-Get? The Grading Game in American Education co-authored with Howie Kirschenbaum and Sidney B. Simon (1971) 

Evaluation in the Schools: A Human Process for Renewal co-authored with John L. Hayman, Jr. (1975)

Making Groups Work: A Guide for Group Leaders co-authored with Matti Gershenfeld (1983)

The Power Interview self-published (1990)

Advanced Games for Trainers co-authored with Matti Gershenfeld (1999)

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