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People of the Point

Published on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 by Margot Griffiths

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“What? You’ve never met Arthur Reber?” That’s what everyone asked me, begging the question, “Why not?” I frankly don’t know what I’ve been doing with my time. 

Reber plays a big role in our community, and he himself figured we must have run into each other somewhere, sometime, but I knew otherwise. I would have remembered this candid, engaging, impassioned man. And he’s funny. Asked for life highlights, here’s how he began: “I flunked out of my second year at the University of Pennsylvania, was fired as a used car salesman and ended up in jail for two days for impersonating a federal agent while selling encyclopedias.” 

He takes a breath. “So I ran away and joined the traveling circus, watering elephants and herding trained pigs – you know, a 
roustabout.” Tell me this isn’t an opening monologue worthy of Woody Allen.

Reber was born in Philadelphia during World War II. His father was a doctor who joined the medical corps, and Reber’s young life was spent moving around the East Coast. After his circus stint he went back to the University of Pennsylvania and this time it clicked. In record time he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a PhD in cognitive psychology from Brown University, an all-Ivy League education. 

His area of interest and the focus of his extensive research was intuition. “You kind of know something, but you don’t know why,” he explains. “And this is the way a huge amount of learning is acquired.” He called it implicit learning – a field no one had named let alone studied before is now a major area of research in cognitive learning with important implications for socialization and education. 

In 1966 he landed his first academic job as an assistant professor with a full teaching load at University of British Columbia (UBC). One year later and he might have been teaching me introductory psychology. 

From 1970 on, his career flourished at the City University of New York where he taught and researched. He was a Fulbright professor at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and a visiting scholar at the University of North Wales. He is an elected Fellow of such august institutions as the Association for Psychological Science (APS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He’s authored many academic publications, including the book “Implicit Learning and Tacit Knowledge: An Essay on the Cognitive Unconscious.” 

Just when I think Reber is becoming predictable, he adds, “and I’ve written three books on gambling.” He describes his love of poker and “the horses” as a concurrent career to academia. His latest book came out just three weeks ago; a Kindle edition selling on Amazon.com called “Poker, Life & Other Confusing Things.” 

“When I do things, I like to write about it,” he says, which perfectly explains his autobiographical novel, Xero to Sixty, currently looking for a home. Reber explains that Xero (pronounced Zero) is the name of the central character, and I know I want to read this book.

Reber’s wife, Rhiannon Allen, was a prominent researcher in the field of social psychology with a focus on cross-cultural issues and is a professor emerita at Long Island University in New York. With her husband, she was a visiting scholar in Austria and Wales, the place of her birth. They also worked in partnership, publishing in the field of implicit learning.

Together they have raised three children. And with one of those children, Emily Reber, they have written “Penguin Dictionary of Psychology.” At 900 pages it is an astounding volume that has sold over half a million copies.

In 2005, Reber and Allen were on sabbatical at UBC and rented a home in Point Roberts. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Whoa, look what we found!’” And so, in 2007, they bought a home here and “tossed ourselves into the world of Point Roberts.” 

It’s not exactly retirement. Arthur’s toss landed in him in local politics. He is the Taxpayers Association’s representative on the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC), which advises Whatcom County Council on ways to better life in Point Roberts. This committee was struck to consult on ways to spend the Transportation Benefit Fund. 

“We are expanding our mandate to better Point Roberts in more ways than transportation, expanding in hopes of using the money from the gas tax in other ways,” Reber said. “The committee has identified three long-term goals for improving the quality of life in Point Roberts. First, helping to fund the building of the new library; second, the restoration of the community center; and third, the Lighthouse Project.”

“I’m a pushy guy. I stick my nose in things,” Reber says. And in doing so, he gets things done. “I think I understand Point Roberts. You can’t push this community, but when a good idea is put forth, it’ll catch. It’ll happen organically.” 

He spends enormous amounts of time calling and meeting with people in Bellingham, including public works, planning and development, and county council, working on ways to enhance all our lives. 

What? Retired people taking it easy? Not Arthur Reber. He’s rewriting the rules of retirement, and the Point is better off for it.
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