Prominent Idaho suicide prevention advocate takes his own life

Peter Wollheim, 67, a retired communications professor at Boise State University, died July 21 at his Boise home, the university said in a news release. Family and friends confirmed the circumstances of his death to the university.

“Peter was always so generous of spirit and service, but as much as he wanted to help, he just couldn’t do it anymore,” said Susan Randall, a close friend who serves as associate director of University Television Productions, in the release from BSU. “I will miss his hearty laugh, insight into so many aspects of life and his eccentricities.”

Private arrangements were under the direction of the Cremation Society of Idaho. A public memorial will be scheduled sometime this fall, the university said.

Wollheim served as co-chairman of the Idaho Commission on Suicide Prevention and was a founding board member of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Action Network. He managed a local suicide prevention hotline for 15 years.

He presented papers and posters on suicide at several national and international conferences and established the nation’s first certified crisis worker preparation program, on the BSU campus. He also frequently contributed articles on mental health to Boise Weekly.

Wollheim taught in the school’s Communication Department from 1989 to 2012. He continued teaching as an adjunct instructor for a year while beginning a new career as a mental health counselor in Boise.

Melissa Stoner, who studied under Wollheim and remained a friend, said he influenced her greatly. He “opened and stimulated minds, raised expectations and elevated those around him,” she said in the Boise State release.

“If you ever wrote a paper for Peter, you probably know how much red ink he spilled over passive verbs,” said Stoner, creative services director for KTVB-TV. “He toiled mightily against the passive voice, banishing ‘was,’ ‘were,’ ‘had,’ ‘be,’ ‘did’ and a host of other bland, do-nothing verbs from countless student papers.”

The son of Holocaust survivors, Wollheim earned a master’s degree from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia in 1978 and a doctorate in mass communications and media studies from McGill University in Quebec in 1991. In 2012, he earned a second master’s degree, in mental health counseling and addictions, from Boise State.

Wollheim was also an active photojournalist and art writer. He published photo essays on childbirth, the treatment of geriatric patients in a psychiatric hospital, the aftermath of gold mining on the landscape in British Columbia and a history on the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. Wollheim received many honors during his long and varied career, including a Jefferson Award for Public Service, a Boise State University Foundation Scholar Award for Service and commendations from the Idaho State Planning Council on Mental Health and the Idaho Chapter of the National Association for Mental Illness. Wollheim also won several awards for investigative reporting from the Idaho Press Club.