In Memoriam - Marty Birnbaum

Martin L. Birnbaum

We mourn the passing of Martin L. Birnbaum (Marty). Marty was a Lifetime Member of the IASWG Board of Directors. He was a devoted group work educator, author, and practitioner. We share feelings of grief and loss with Marty's beloved wife, Myra, and his family and friends.

Many IASWG members across the world dearly loved Marty. His loss will be recognized with a special tribute session at our global IASWG Virtual Symposium in June. In addition, we welcome you at this time to share your memories, stories, and photos of Marty by emailing [email protected] or by submitting your recollection.

Marty was very generous to IASWG, both with this time and with his financial resources. Marty donated generously to IASWG to create the IASWG Martin Birnbaum Special Projects Fund, dedicated to supporting the global activities of our IASWG Chapters as well as any IASWG members interested in creating group work themed events to further the group work mission of IASWG. Marty always shared that his hope was that IASWG members would support his initial generous donation to the fund by making their own donations to support the good intentions of the fund.

After his retirement from teaching, Marty directed the film, "Central Park: The People's Place", which was celebrated at the IASWG 2017 NYC Symposium by a special showing with a discussion facilitated by Marty and accompanied by his wife, Myra. The following is what Marty said about his experience as a filmmaker which ties together his deep and abiding love for group work: "My professional background as a social worker, and professor of group studies, made me aware of how Central Park enables human connections with oneself, family, friends and pets. The park provides an atmosphere for groups to flourish. Through social interaction, people help one another accomplish their goals, lasting friendships form and there is a sense of community."

Marty is fondly remembered by his IASWG colleagues. Their feelings about Marty describe his genuine, cheerful, welcoming, encouraging nature and his role as an educator, mentor and friend. After hearing of Marty's passing, one colleague shared: "His main focus in life, personally and professionally, has been on human connection, connection with oneself, connection with nature.

Goodbye Marty. You will be missed.

Donate to The Martin Birnbaum Special Projects Fund - Donations will be used to provide funding support for IASWG chapters seeking to produce a special project, as well as for any IASWG event such as an IASWG Group Work Camp being held globally. 


Member Recollections about Marty

"It only seems right that this moment should bring us to an ending exercise. I have imagined the following:​ ​Now together we will take a deep breath, in through our noses and out through our mouths, at a pace that is comfortable for you.  Call to mind the image of a leaf.  See in your mind’s eye it’s color.  Sense how you think it might feel in your hand.  Trace its edge in your mind.  Notice if it is smooth or serrated, if it has many parts or one.  Sense the vein that runs up the center of the leaf and any of its lobes.  Imagine its smell as you think about it.  Now breathe…in….out.  This leaf is the far tip of a tree that reaches far back into the earth.  It makes food for the whole tree and releases oxygen into the air as it breathes.  It nourishes both itself and the world.  When Marty honored nature, he clearly understood its connection to us, but, perhaps, he was not so aware of how much like the leaf and the tree he was and had become.  And so now, as he has come to his ending, we might use this moment to join with him and recognize how much he has filled and fed us and how much we must fill and feed others to follow in his example. Rest well, Marty Birnbaum, you have surely earned it.​"​

"This is sad news and a big loss for all of us. My condolences to his family and to each one of us who knew Marty."

"We will all miss Marty and his presence at board meetings, reminding us to pay attention to our group process and, in particular, to our group endings.He was beloved by those who knew him."

"Excellent Group Work Professor and Wonderful Human Being at Wurzweiler School of Social Work..  I will remember him as a fabulous educator."

"Marty was just always there. He embodied the very best of social work with groups and taught about that with great insight and enthusiasm. He put ideas together and told the rest of us what he had thought. He did it all with vim and vigor and a passion for this field of ours. With fun and a sense of humor and delight in this enterprise we're engaged in, he enriched our slice of this helping and healing art. His going leaves a great hole in the landscape that cannot ever quite be filled. Rest in peace, Marty; know you leave a very full legacy to us and to the future group workers."

"My deepest sympathies to his family, wife, IASWG family and other friends. May Marty rest in peace."

"I am very sorry to read about Marty's passing. Please accept my deepest condolences. May his soul rest in peace."

"The loss of Marty Birnbaum, is sad for his family, both nuclear and extended. I remember working with Marty on a conference committee titled, Roots and New Frontiers. Marcos Leiderman, another fine teacher, academic and lifelong advocate pulled together leaders in the field of social work with groups to lead the movement to form a new organization that was national, then international. What about exciting planning committee and what a group of visionary thinkers! It was a privilege and joy to serve with this group of forward thinking, value driven, strong leaders to create such an exciting organization. May their work and positive sense of groups on continue to thrive."

"Marty was an important presence in the AASWG/IASWG family from the early beginnings of our Association. He was pivotal in helping the board move from an internal to an external focus. In an email to me in 2012, Marty wrote: Various interrelated activities, such as Town Hall meetings, Board retreats, Board composition and leadership and our international focus brought about change in focus and a balance between the internal and external. The results have had a very positive impact and may serve as a model for organizational change”. Marty was a creative thinker and a creative "doer". Whether in groups or his community, Marty brought an enthusiasm for life, a genuine interest in people, a warm, engaging smile of welcome, and a strong commitment to all he did. Two of Marty's photographs grace the walls in my home, both of which he donated to silent auctions at symposia. One is of Central Park in NY, a place he knew and loved well. Marty left a multi-faceted legacy in the world of social work with groups. Heartfelt condolences to Myra and his family and friends. In fond memory of Marty."

We welcome you to share your memories, stories, and photos of Marty by emailing [email protected] or by submitting your recollection to then be shared with our community.