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Paula Green, tireless advocate for peace, dies at 84

Paula Green spoke to a reporter in Leverett in 2018.Matthew Cavanaugh/For The Boston Globe

In a world beset with anger, conflict, and war, Paula Green worked endlessly to promote peace.

She often did so by bringing together those who wouldn’t ordinarily share a meal or even the same room — Israelis and Palestinians, for example, or liberal Democrats from Western Massachusetts and conservatives from a Kentucky county that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for president.

“I believe that we human beings can change our behavior and have the potential to express tolerance and good will toward others,” she told the Boston Globe in 1998. “We are not born to hate, and we don’t have to spend our lives in antagonistic, hurtful, brutal relationships.”

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A practicing Buddhist who created multiple places and programs to resolve seemingly intractable conflicts, Dr. Green died Feb. 21 of a heart attack. She was 84, lived in Leverett, and had been diagnosed with lung cancer, which had returned after being successfully treated 13 years ago.

“I’m a psychologist by profession, and I’ve been involved in the peace movement since I was a young woman,” she said in the 1998 interview. “It was Vietnam, civil rights. I cut my teeth as a young woman in those movements and have stayed committed to issues of justice, social change, and nonviolence.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, she added, “are pillars for me.”

Through her the teachings of peacemakers became a foundation for others as well, including unlikely combinations of people in this politically polarized time.

Early in the Trump administration, she helped found Hands Across the Hills, which she called “a residential dialogue and cultural exchange program.”

On a small, local scale, liberal activists in Franklin County met with counterparts on the opposite end of the political spectrum in Letcher County, Ky., about 30 participants in all.

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The 2016 election results in their areas were exactly opposite — some 80 percent of voters in the Massachusetts county supporting Hillary Clinton, the same amount in the Kentucky county backing Trump.

They visited each other, staying in one another’s Kentucky and Massachusetts homes. They ate meals together, took to the floor for square dances, and argued politics.

“As we comprehend the histories of other lives and regions more deeply, we gain compassionate understanding of the relationship between biography and political expression,” Dr. Green wrote on her website. “We have directly learned that we can repair, we can build bonds across vast gaps in our nation, we can understand and care for each other despite significant political differences.”

Hands Across the Hills became a sort of legacy project as Dr. Green realized the end of her life was drawing near.

“She gave most of her energy to it over the last four years of her life, at which point she knew she was suffering from an incurable lung cancer,” said her husband, Jim Perkins.

“Like the rest of us, she was terribly worried about the divisions in our country, and from her experience overseas, she saw the potential for violent civil war,” he said. “And wanted to do what she could do to heal that divide.”

Paula Green was born on Dec. 16, 1937, in Newark, and grew up there, one of two children.

Her father, Martin Green, was a schoolteacher in Newark. Her mother, Ethel Notkin, died when Dr. Green was 14.

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“She loved her mother a great deal,” Dr. Green’s husband said. “Her mother was a very important person in her life.”

Dr. Green’s brother, Rabbi Arthur Green of Newton, was the founding dean of the nondenominational rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Boston.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, where she studied elementary education.

Her first marriage ended in divorce, and before beginning graduate studies, she lived in Englewood, N.J., where she raised her two sons: Daniel Bacher, who now lives in Monroe, N.Y., and David Bacher of San Ramon, Calif.

“Graduate school was really where she blossomed intellectually,” her husband said.

She received a master’s in intergroup relations from New York University and a doctorate in psychology from Boston University.

Those studies led her to “the then newly emerging field of international peacebuilding,” she wrote.

“In the 1980s I honed my skills through serving on the boards of directors of numerous social change organizations and learned to be courageous and trustworthy in responding to emotions and conflict in my work as a psychotherapist,” Dr. Green added. “Through this history, a year of living in Asia, and the guidance of wise mentors, I developed as a peace builder.”

In those years she also met Jim Perkins, and they married in 1987. He is a former director of Traprock Center for Peace & Justice in Greenfield, a former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Leverett, and had been a community member with peace activist Philip Berrigan.

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Dr. Green had an “enormous ability with a group to make everyone feel safe and to get them to the level where they could communicate with each other as people,” her husband said. “That ability to work with a group and make a group feel safe was almost magical.”

A psychologist in private practice in the 1980s, Dr. Green helped organize the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, and she founded and formerly directed Karuna Center for Peacebuilding in Amherst.

She taught graduate students at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, and, in the late 1990s, launched Conflict Transformation Across Cultures, or CONTACT, a program to train future peace builders.

Her many honors include the first Prize for US Peacebuilding Award from the Alliance for Peacebuilding and an Unsung Hero of Compassion award from the Dalai Lama.

“As our country disintegrates into enemy camps and the urgency increases to respond to dramatic ruptures,” she said in 2018 at the Alliance for Peacebuilding ceremony, “we will need each other more and more.”

In addition to her husband, two sons, and brother, Dr. Green leaves four stepchildren, Cindy Perkins of Pittsfield, N.H., Dan Perkins of Ishpeming, Mich., Laura Perkins of Peekskill, N.Y., and Jennifer Perkins of Anchorage; three granddaughters; two step-granddaughters; and a step-great-granddaughter.

A celebration of Dr. Green’s life will be held at 1:30 p.m. on July 17 in the Montague Retreat Center in Montague.

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In gatherings Dr. Green led, the participants in the Hands Across the Hills gatherings, often polar opposites politically, sometimes sat in a circle quietly as one by one, each person spoke.

“We have been groomed and educated to have lots of opinions, but that all has to be set aside in dialogue,” she told The New York Times in 2019. “It’s not about opinions, it’s about profound listening.”

She managed to do the same in a similar gathering in early 1998 attended by Israelis and Palestinians, when at stake was armed conflict, rather than the angry divisiveness of the United States in recent years.

“War is a lose-lose proposition,” Dr. Green told the Globe a few months later. “I believe cycles of revenge can be interrupted as people begin sharing their stories and reconciling with others. It works very slowly, it takes a long time, but we can’t not do it and wonder how much worse things would be if we didn’t try.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.