Birth and Early Development of ECHA

In 1983 Franz Mönks introduced me to 'the world of the gifted', which was the start of things to come. In august 1986 I participated in the first Portuguese conference on gifted education in Porto (Fig 1.). During the conference the president of the Portuguese association, Luiz Nazareth and I agreed on a proposal to found a European association. The objectives of this association should be the study and development of high ability, including the international exchange of information related to that subject. This should also include countries in east Europe, behind the iron curtain. I sent this proposal to European participants of recent conferences on giftedness and to local associations in European countries. Almost all the responses were positive. Only some respondents objected:  they thought that Europe was not yet ready for such an association and at least there should be a link with the World Council. (The reader should remember that in those days there was a strong resistance against special attention for the gifted.)

Fig 1. From left to right: Pieter Span, Dorothy Sisk and Harry Passow (committee of the World Council) at the 1986 Porto meeting

To speed up the procedure I invited Luiz Nazareth (P), Joan Freeman (GB), Ulrike Stednitz (CH), Harald Wagner (BRD) and Jean Brunault (FR) to meet me in Utrecht, May 29 and 30 1987. May 29 the association was founded and called European Council for High Ability: ECHA.  Joan Freeman was elected as president. Goals were:

  • Close cooperation with the World Council and with national associations (partly realized).
  • The publication of scientific research (realized).
  • The publication of a Newsletter: ECHA News.  It was me, who choose the colour green (for hope) and the 'flip-over-stairs' (the number of 'flips' correlates with intelligence level) (realized).
  • The organization of conferences (realized).
  • The founding of divisions e.g. research and education (not realized).

The 30th a symposium was organized. We closed the meeting at Utrecht in a high mode: ECHA existed!

The first conference was held in 1988 in Zürich (CH; Fig. 2.), chaired by Ulrike Stedtnitz (see ECHA News, special issue 2012) and having an opening night at 18.00 p.m.  The grand ballroom of the hotel Zurich was overcrowded. Participants were waiting. No Joan. I asked Ulrike: go and find out. After five minutes Ulrike returned: Joan had the time wrong. But then Joan appeared: strided to the front and gave a magnificent speech, by which ECHA was really founded. Main characteristic of the conference since that moment was: everyone felt at home.

Fig 2. Problem solving during the 1988 Zürich conference (from left to right: Pieter Span, Paul Andrews, Ulrike Stedtnitz and Joan Freeman)

In the meantime Brunault and Nazareth had left the committee; two new members were Eva Geffert (HON) and Levcho Zdravchev (BUL). These were very lucky choices: Eva would become the chairperson of the next conference in Budapest (1990), which was a conference of 'high level 'and a great success. Levcho organized the first issue of the European Journal for High Ability. Arthur Cropley was the editor.

Fig 3. Planning the European Journal for High Ability (from left to right: with Levcho Zdravchev, Pieter Span, Joan Freeman, Harald Wagner and Arthur Cropley)

I resigned in Budapest as secretary. A new challenge was waiting. Harold took over my position.  Joan thanked me for everything I did for ECHA, even referred to Winston Churchill (i.c. sweat and tears), which I thought was a bit overdone. The farewell evening at Budapest however was overshadowed by alarming information about social unrest in the country.

The next conference was in Munich, 1992. At the end of the conference Joan resigned as president. I thanked her for everything she did as president and as a friend.  Franz Mönks took over her job. During the diner Ernst Hany gave me a nice speech and handed me a flashlight, symbolic for somebody who showed the way to go. For me the first five ECHA years were exiting years. We reached most of the goals as we had planned. But, very importantly, we did it also in perfect harmony. And with reference to Harald: 'Echa-cha'.


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